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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Steve Greenberg

NASCAR drivers ‘skeptical’ about spectacle that will be the Chicago Street Race

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 8 3CHI Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Enjoy Illinois 300 on Sunday in Madison, Ill. (Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

MADISON — NASCAR’s Cup Series revved it up Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway, six miles across the river from St. Louis.

The Illinois 300 didn’t last three laps before there was a crash, this one involving Tyler Reddick, who drives for the 23XI team owned by Michael Jordan. No sooner did Reddick get his car turned in the right direction again than lightning struck, causing a lengthy delay that must have created an anticlimactic feel for all who actually came to the race out of love for the sport.

At least one fish out of water from Chicago spent the weekend bumbling around a facility that features a 1¼-mile oval track, a 2-mile road course, a ¼-mile drag strip and a kart track. In other words, this is racin’ country. There are no skyscrapers looming above the speeding cars. There’s no shimmering lakefront to take one’s breath away. And there definitely isn’t anyone complaining about large-scale street closures gumming up the works at the heart of one of the busiest downtowns in the country.

NASCAR is coming to our city in less than a month for what’s sure to be a wild, weird ride. The Chicago Street Race is slated for July 1 and 2 downtown, with an Xfinity Series race on Saturday and the main event — the Grant Park 220 Cup race — on Sunday.

Big-city street racing on Lake Shore Drive, Roosevelt Rd. and Michigan Ave., with Columbus Drive turned into Pit Row? Not only the customary left turns but also — get this — right ones, too? It couldn’t be a more different experience — both for NASCAR and for us. We’ll be doing this in 2024 and 2025, too.

How are drivers feeling about it?

“I think we’re all excited and we’re all really nervous at the same time,” reigning Cup Series champion Joey Logano said.

“Racing through the city streets, very narrow, I honestly don’t know how it’s all going to work out,” said Bubba Wallace, another of Jordan’s drivers. “I think there are a lot of us that are skeptical in the field.”

There will be a hard-to-imagine seven 90-degree turns on the course, leading in some cases — the drivers guarantee it — to crashes as bunched-up cars try but fail to pass others cleanly. Again, the narrowness of certain streets on the course — Balbo, to name one — will pose an uncommon, potentially gnarly challenge, as could the varying surfaces from street to street.

“We’re usually pretty wide,” Wallace said, “and we like to run into people.”

And the effects on Chicagoans during race weekend and the weeks of setup leading up to it — significant street closures are set to begin June 25 — will be real. The racing itself surely will be quite a spectacle, and some locals will love it. Others inevitably will be less than thrilled.

“There’s definitely a lot to do and a lot going on,” said Chicago Street Race president Julie Giese, “but things are coming together very nicely.”

How confident is Giese that the whole undertaking will be a success?

“I’m incredibly confident,” she said. “We see this as an opportunity to not only put the best foot forward for NASCAR but also for the city of Chicago. … And one thing I learned very early on in our planning meetings is that the city of Chicago knows how to put on big events.”

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