A key, creative piece of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule was revealed Tuesday afternoon amid the bustle of downtown Chicago, where plans for a street-circuit race on the streets in the Chicago Loop were officially announced.
Series officials and driver Bubba Wallace were joined by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other dignitaries at Cityfront Plaza in setting the course for NASCAR Chicago Street Race Weekend on July 1-2. The Cup Series’ inaugural race on a temporary street circuit will share the weekend with a companion IMSA sports-car event, and it will be broadcast on NBC.
“Really excited about announcing that for the first time with our national series that we’ll be bringing it to a street course, and what better place to do it than downtown Chicago, such an iconic city,” said Ben Kennedy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing development and strategy. “You think about the history of sports there, the iconic monuments and facilities around Chicago, and the support that we’ve had around Chicago as well. Mix that in with the great racing that we’ve seen with our NASCAR Cup Series, certainly going to be a very special moment in the summer of 2023 as we go street-course racing for the first time with the series.”
The Chicago event fits the recently cast mold of innovative additions to the Cup Series schedule, following the lead of bringing back dirt-track racing at Bristol Motor Speedway and the first-ever Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum earlier this year in Los Angeles. NASCAR’s top division will run on city streets for the first time in proximity to many Windy City landmarks, including Grant Park, Buckingham Fountain and the edge of Soldier Field. Iconic street names — Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive — will be a part of the 2.2-mile layout.
The course was first developed on the iRacing platform and was used in the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series last year. When that virtual circuit was unveiled, Kennedy said that “as we look at future schedules, certainly have everything on the table.” Tuesday’s announcement means that the sim-racing feasibility study will soon have a real-life corollary.
“Certainly a lot of work by the team in coming up with not only the vision for the iRacing event to be able to prove out what the track would look like, but then ultimately, what the site plan looks like, what the events and activities will look like on the event weekend, which will look significantly different from what we’ve seen at a lot of some of our other events,” Kennedy said. “We’ll have a number of different music acts, you know, different entertainment options throughout the weekend. IMSA will be joining us with one of their series as well, leading into the Cup Series on Sunday.
“So, really excited about it. A lot of work by the team so far to get to where we’re at today; a lot of work to go before July 1st and 2nd of next year, though.”
Kennedy indicated that series officials scouted multiple locations for a downtown event, but that Chicago’s Grant Park and its skyline-hub setting along Lake Michigan was “a no-brainer.” Lightfoot added that from a logistics standpoint, the city regularly hosts large-scale events, saying: “We know how to do this.”
“We’ll be working hand and glove with NASCAR to make sure that the experience is safe but also incredibly enjoyable for the fans,” Lightfoot added, mentioning the economic benefits of being a street-race host. “If you know anything about the city of Chicago, you probably know our tremendous lakefront and icons like Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain. I’m looking forward to showcasing our fantastic city on a global stage. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that this race is a love letter to the city of Chicago.”
NASCAR officials indicated that the rest of the Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series schedule would be released at a later date. Only a handful of Cup Series dates have been revealed for 2023. Tickets are on sale for the season-opening Daytona 500, scheduled for Feb. 19. A return to the LA Coliseum for the preseason Busch Light Clash exhibition is set for Feb. 5.
Kennedy confirmed that the Chicago Street Race would replace Road America on the Independence Day weekend slot on the schedule. The 4.048-mile road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin — some 150 miles north of Chicago — hosted the Cup Series the last two seasons.
Kennedy says he’s hopeful the event will replicate the festival atmosphere from previous racing weekends around the July 4 holiday.
“We’ve had some great racing at Road America, certainly the past few years with the NASCAR Cup Series, much longer than that with the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” Kennedy said. “They’ve been great partners. We’ve seen a great turnout from a fan perspective as well. We’ve seen some great racing there. That said, it is unfortunate we’re not going back in 2023. Just because it’s a no for 2023 doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a no forever. We’ve got some great partners up there. We’ll certainly share more about what other national series’ schedules look like in the future.”
NASCAR has an array of long-running connections to the Chicago area. A Cup Series event in 1956 joined the regular rotation of auto racing at Soldier Field, now home to the Chicago Bears. More recently, the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet hosted the Cup Series from 2001-2019.
NASCAR’s experience with street-circuit racing is more limited. The former NASCAR Southwest Tour competed on a temporary layout near the LA Coliseum from 1998-2000, and the former NASCAR Winston West circuit ran four street races in the Pacific Northwest from 1986-88 — two each in the Washington cities of Spokane and Tacoma.
The versatility of the Next Gen car that debuted this year in the NASCAR Cup Series, plus the proof of concept that emerged from the Los Angeles Clash, have prompted Kennedy and the sanctioning body’s schedule makers to take the show on the road — or in this case, the downtown streets.
“We’ve talked about this before, but it gives us the ability to go into new markets,” Kennedy said of the stadium-style Clash event, “I think street courses gives us that ability as well. That said, it’s important for us to keep the integrity that we’ve had in the schedule, right? Mile and a half, superspeedway, short tracks are all important to our schedule. Adding a street course to the schedule I think is going to continue to make it probably the most diverse motorsports schedule that exists out there today, and we’re really excited about that. But I think it gives us the ability, as we think on into the future to enter some of the new markets and look at some of our events in different ways.”