The NASCAR Cup Series will visit Chicago next year — and it’ll make history when it does.
NASCAR announced Tuesday that it will break into the third-largest media market in the US when it hosts a first-of-its-kind street course race on July 2, 2023, in downtown Chicago.
This means NASCAR’s top drivers will be maneuvering the streets of one of the biggest cities in the US — a prospect imagined and piloted in the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series last summer but never actualized until now.
“We seized an incredible opportunity to add an unprecedented element to our schedule and take center stage in the heart of another major metropolitan market,” Ben Kennedy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing development and strategy, said. “This is the ideal setting for the first-ever NASCAR Cup Series street race. The NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen cars and the IMSA machines will race along the shores of Lake Michigan in downtown Chicago, marking a truly historic moment for our sport.”
The agreement between the city of Chicago and NASCAR reportedly stipulates that the race will be held for three consecutive years beginning in 2023.
The course will transform Lake Shore Drive, Michigan Avenue, Columbus Drive and “select surrounding throughfares” into a 12-turn, 2.2-mile street course that starts and ends at iconic Buckingham Fountain. Along the way, drivers will pass through some of the most memorable parts of the city, including Grant Park and Soldier Field.
“Chicago’s streets are as iconic as our skyline, and our reputation as a world-class sports city is indisputable,” Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot said, adding, “Chicago’s world-class entertainment and hospitality industries, coupled with our city’s history as a conduit for sports talent, make us the perfect hosts for this unique event.”
In a corresponding move, Sports Business Journal reported Road America will lose its Cup Series race in 2023 to make room for the new Chicago event. The remainder of the 2023 schedules for the Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and IMSA will be announced at a later date, by the association.
The race will be televised on NBC.
The significance of NASCAR-Chicago race
Tuesday’s announcement is big for several reasons.
It marks a moment of innovation for a sport rooted in tradition. It also adds a big event in a major market — an initiative that has been carried out in recent years with the addition of the Busch Light Clash at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which held its popular inaugural Cup Series race in February — and it continues to meaningfully expand the footprint of a sport culturally linked to the South.
Perhaps most interestingly, though, the announcement marks an acknowledgment of the strength of Formula 1 Racing, NASCAR’s rapidly growing competitor.
Interest among Americans in F1 has boomed in recent years. The race series, which for decades has been worldwide phenomenon, is among the fastest growing sports in the US
Some of that hype is thanks to a wildly popular Netflix documentary on F1 racing that first aired in 2019, Drive to Survive. Some of that is because ESPN re-picked up the sport on its networks in 2018. (Per Yahoo, ESPN’s networks averaged 930,000 viewers for F1 races in 2021 after scoring an average audience of 608,000 viewers in 2020. It notched more US viewers ages 18 -49 than NASCAR’s race at Darlington in May.)
But a lot of the success F1 has enjoyed comes from the sport itself, what with how open-wheeled cars zoom around street courses and do so in bustling metropolises filled with young people.
And it appears that NASCAR, in its own way, is trying to emulate that.
NASCAR Chicago Street Race Course
This story was originally published July 19, 2022 3:30 PM.