NASCAR attempted something new with their Grant Park 200 on Sunday. It was the first “street race” ever officially held at NASCAR’s highest level. There were some good that came out of it…but also some very, very bad.
NASCAR’s Street Race: What Went Right and What Went Wrong
Even in the rain, the turnout was good.
It is true with most NASCAR races that you see maybe a quarter of the action on the track, and you watch the rest of it on the big screen or on your phone. A crash could happen on the backstretch and you wouldn’t know it for a hot minute. Road courses? Even worse. So then, why did so many people show up, in the rain, for this event?
Novelty, for one. It was something new and different and NASCAR had done a good job of promoting the race and the uniqueness that it held.
NASCAR had run races in Joliet (an hour south of the city) and called it ‘Chicagoland Speedway’, so NASCAR was already playing around in the Windy City’s backyard. Why not try and come inside the house? Imagine if it hadn’t rained; the crowds may have been the story of the weekend, then.
It was a gamble for NASCAR to shut down the streets of Chi-town to lets some cars drive around for a few hours on a Saturday and Sunday, but it appears that NASCAR won that hand.
For once, the willingness to try something new worked.
It would be interesting to know how many other cities NASCAR queried about running a road race within their confines. Was Chicago the first choice? It seems unlikely. I, for one, certainly don’t want NASCAR to emulate Indy Car or Formula One beyond what they did this weekend, but their willingness to branch out some has at least been interesting to watch and has caused many a conversation (or article) amongst fans and critics.
Time will tell if this venture ends up more positive than the dirt track foray they tried in 2022 at Bristol, but the rain doesn’t seem to have thrown a wet blanket on NASCAR this time, from the standpoint of buzz and a ‘new and shiny thing’. It wasn’t a swing and a miss, but it wasn’t a home run either.
With all of this in mind, I don’t believe that they should try it again, or make it a permanent staple of the schedule. The uniqueness of the event would go away quickly if they kept trying to do it, and it would become a one-ring circus instead. I’d personally do away with road courses completely; it just doesn’t give a true representation of the sport or the drivers who spend hours every Sunday turning left 800 times.
No one knows who just won.
Seriously, who is in charge of the stipulations for who can enter a race? Maybe I can get in next weekend! The worst, yes, the very worst thing that could have happened as far as the outcome of the race, happened. Some part-time ‘road specialist’ snuck into the field, got lucky, and won the whole thing, partially due to the shortened lap count and high body count of cars wrecking. NASCAR will take the egg on their face on this result, hard-boiled please, and leave a saltshaker on the table before you go. Yikes.
“First-time winners are exciting, right!” “It elevates the sport when a driver wins their first race!” I agree! When the driver is a full-time driver who has worked hard and gone through the lower series and earned their spot in the field. It drives me nuts when teams bring in a ‘road course specialist’ and I think the majority of NASCAR fans agree. Pay your dues and do the time and work your way up and show that you deserve your shot. If that is closed minded then so be it.
The full-time guys put in the hours of sweat and skin and heart to race in this series, only to have their work scoffed at and marginalized this weekend. The outcome of the race was an insult to the full-time teams and drivers. Forget the egg; NASCAR just cooked an omelet of embarrassment.
Was it a road course or a slip-and-slide?
How many crashes were in Sunday’s race? In just 75 laps? On a 2.2 mile track where the cars inevitably get spread out and far from each other? Oh yeah, until they stop the race and force the cars all back together in the name of competition. Most wrecks were cringe-worthy and added zero excitement or confidence in the conditions of the track. It was a weird, shuffly jagged dance around the twists and turns of the racecourse, looking both awkward and unsafe.
When describing the weather in Chicago, the forecasters used the words ‘heavy rain’, deluge, and soaking. It certainly weighed down the actual racing and ability to adjust the cars and create a competitive atmosphere. As Denny Hamlin said, “We can’t control the rain”. They also had a little trouble controlling the cars due to the very wet, very slick roads. Not the best look for a sport trying to regain fans and reinvigorate the appeal of the brand.
The oddity that made the weekend a sort of success also made it a strange kerfuffle of confusing sights and dangerous conditions. In the end, it was a circus tent that NASCAR shouldn’t venture into again.
I give NASCAR a solid B for trying a new thing and sticking with it. I give them a C- for the way things went down, from the downpours to the trimmed-down Sunday race length to the downright ridiculous winner.
Main Image:Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports