NASCAR Cup drivers curious about Chicago street race concept for the 2023 season

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HAMPTON, Georgia – Kurt Busch has a unique link to the brief past and the sudden future for a NASCAR street race.

According to a report in The Athletic, an announcement is imminent of the Cup Series adding a layout in downtown Chicago to its 2023 schedule. It would be a significant development for NASCAR, which has lacked a presence in the nation’s third-largest TV market since the 2019 race at Chicagoland Speedway and would be trying to add a major metropolitan city for the second consecutive year (after the debut of the Clash at the Coliseum short track last January).

But a Chicago street race would carry even more weight with Busch, whose parents grew up in the Windy City’s northwest suburbs while both attended Arlington Heights High School. Though he was raised in Las Vegas, Busch is a lifelong Cubs fan who still has many friends and family in Illinois.

Plus, there’s the matter of his No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing being co-owned by Michael Jordan, the NBA legend who won six championships with the Chicago Bulls.

“It would be awesome with people wanting to come and see and hang out with us,” Busch said. “It would be quite a hospitality weekend at 23XI. I think there’s a lot of excitement in all areas.

“The concept is as incredible as the Coliseum. If I can do things to help NASCAR with the track surface, some of the SAFER barriers and runoff areas, I’d raise my hand big with the driver council to try to help. The excitement, the different value, the different feel. It would be off the charts. I think that’s important for our sport on certain weekends to do that.”

The twist is Busch has done it before. The 2004 Cup Series champion made two starts in a NASCAR Southwest Tour race that ran through the streets of Los Angeles around the Coliseum in 1998-99.

“It was a blast,” Busch said. “The parking lot area had a sealant on it, then we crossed over this drainage ditch onto Figueroa, and that’s regular asphalt. And then we’d jump in by the Coliseum and run around it, and it had concrete like Dover and Nashville-style seams. So it had everything.

“That’s what I’m expecting with a street race that you’re going to have different surfaces, different bumps that hopefully will not upset the cars too much. But just the overall vibe of getting people there and the location, as picturesque as it’s going to be, will be an incredible sight to see and an incredible energy to be part of.”

The news of a possible Chicago race had many drivers buzzing – and some fretting about its potential impact for Road America – at Atlanta Motor Speedway this past weekend.

Chase Elliott, who has been campaigning to bring NASCAR to the Nashville Fairgrounds short track in part because of its proximity to the big city, applied the same logic to racing on the streets of Chicago.

“We need to make sure it’s a good event,” he said. “The drivers might not like the track and it might not be ideal for us. But when you’re in the middle of the city and have the ability to draw that kind of a crowd out to your race, we better make sure it’s put on well. Done at a very high level, people have a good spot to watch the race from, things to go do and make it an event. That’s what it needs to be. And I think as long as it’s that and it’s done well, it will be a success whether the drivers like the track or not.”

But like Busch and Kevin Harvick, who also raced on the streets of L.A., some drivers have insight to offer through their street course experiences (albeit in other series).

Austin Cindric counts the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, as among the favorite layouts he has raced in sports cars and USF2000 (a single-seater open-cockpit ladder series for IndyCar).

“I love street course racing; it’s fun to bring the party to the people,” the Team Penske driver said. “I feel like it’s a similar effect that an L.A. Coliseum-type event would have. So I think it’d be really cool to add. I think we have the cars, the fan base that would embrace an event like that.”

Michael McDowell, who has raced on street courses around the world in sports cars and open wheel (including a 2005 Champ Car debut on the famed Surfers Paradise circuit in Australia), said the Next Gen car should fit street courses better with its enhanced braking and turning capability.

“In our previous generation of car, it’d be tough just (with) the turning radius to even do a Coliseum let alone a street race,” McDowell said. “But with the Next Gen car, this car is capable of putting on a good show. So I think it would be fun. The bodies are a little bit tougher, and the clearance to the tires is better, which would be good. Because if you’re brushing up against concrete walls, you don’t want to cut a tire and get a flat.

“What’s probably most important is getting enough practice. Just because those racetracks are so challenging on their own, just having visual references and braking markers and all that is going to be really important. Just minimizing mistakes, I think practice can do that. … With street courses being so narrow in general, you’ve got to have a decent long straightaway and a good braking zone to be able to make moves and get through traffic.”

Cindric said the biggest challenges for NASCAR would be ensuring a spacious pit area to accommodate 40 cars, as well as having proper restart/runoff areas and minimizing sharp corner radiuses and angles. The Athletic report had no details on the proposed Chicago layout, but it’s expected to be based on an iRacing course that was unveiled for a 2021 wreckfest involving Cup drivers.

“Hopefully it goes way better than the iRacing deal did because that was an absolute disaster,” Alex Bowman said.

Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron said he’d be “very skeptical” about the proposed Chicago race if it’s based off the iRacing track. “I drove it on iRacing and iRacing does a great job with the tracks,” Byron said. “If it’s anything like that, it’s very, very narrow. So we’re going to have some work to do to create a passing lane. I don’t think it’s a matter of just making the track super wide so there’s room for error, but there has to be a passing lane. We have to be able to get inside of somebody under braking and not just hit the wall.”

Said Kyle Busch: “Street racing typically is pretty tight and pretty narrow with 90 degree corners. I’d hate to see one of us miss a corner, go into a tire barrier, and then it blocks the track.”

After watching the inaugural IndyCar race through the streets of downtown Nashville, Tennessee, Ryan Blaney said a street course width should be a high priority for NASCAR.

“I think it’s great they’re wanting to do something different and go to a good market,” the Team Penske driver said. “Your circuit has got to be wide enough to make it work. It can’t be 15 or 20 feet wide. It’s got to be wide enough to where you can actually race. And if there’s a wreck, you’re just not piling into it. So that’s my only concern is you’ve got to make it wide enough. To find streets that you can do that is tough.”

NASCAR already might have a good test case with the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, whose tight corners have been compared to a street course.

“The idea of a street course has been really exciting,” Tyler Reddick said. “I really enjoyed the Roval because of some of the corners you have there. You make a mistake in Turn 1, and there’s a barrier. You overstep it a little bit in (Turn) 2, and there’s another barrier. I think the thought of that could be really exciting.

“It seems like Chicago could work, so I’m excited for it. I just hope we don’t lose a track that is also really good for us, too.”

That’s a reference to Road America, where Reddick just became a first-time winner in the Cup Series. The Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, road course has been viewed as the most likely candidate for losing a race with the addition of Chicago (which likely would slot into the same July 4 race weekend).

“I’m excited about there being a possibility of a street race, but I’m not excited about it replacing Road America,” McDowell said. “Just because Road America is probably one of the coolest places we go to, great fan turnout, awesome venue. I could think of five or six (tracks) that I would like to replace other than Road America, but they didn’t ask me for my opinion.

Cindric is hoping that NASCAR would keep Road America (which he considers the best of six road courses on the Cup schedule) while also adding the Chicago street race.

“There’s a big short track following in (Wisconsin), and I don’t think the Chicago area necessarily makes up for that,” Cindric said. “We’ve raced in Chicagoland, that’s pretty close, but I don’t think it’s close enough. We get a ton of race fans that really enjoy (Road America), and I had a lot of people come up to me that have been watching me race there for a lot of years in Xfinity, talking about how they’re not looking forward to hearing (Chicago replace Road America). I’m optimistic that won’t happen.”

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

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A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).

Talladega’s tale of two drivers: One celebrates, one laments

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — It’s dangerous to forecast what is going to happen next in these playoffs in a Cup season unlike any other. 

So keep that in mind, but Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega moves him one step closer to returning to the championship race for a third consecutive season.

It’s easy to overlook that beyond earning a spot in the Round of 8 with his win Sunday, Elliott scored six playoff points. That gives him 46 playoff points. He has the opportunity to score seven more playoff points this weekend at the Charlotte Roval — an event he has won twice — before the next round begins.

Once the current round ends, the points will be reset to 4,000 for each of the remaining playoff drivers and they’ll have their playoff points added. 

At this point, Elliott would have a 21-point lead on his nearest competitor and a 31-point lead the first driver outside a transfer spot to the championship race.

The next round opens at Las Vegas, goes to Homestead and ends with Martinsville. 

A key for Elliott, though, is to avoid how he has started each of the first two rounds. A crash led to a 36th-place finish in the playoff opener at Darlington. He placed 32nd after a crash at Texas to begin this round.

The up-and-down nature of the playoffs, though, hasn’t taken a toll on the 2020 Cup champion.

“I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” said Elliott, who is advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth consecutive season. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.

“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.

“This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race. I don’t know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”

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Joey Logano has always been one who wants to race at the front in a superspeedway event instead of riding at the back.

When asked last month about the idea of Texas Motor Speedway being reconfigured to provide superspeedway-type racing — as Atlanta Motor Speedway was before this season — Logano questioned the value of that type of racing.

“Is that the type of racing fans want to see?” Logano said. “Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. 

“They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano sought to race at the front as much as possible Sunday at Talladega, even after his car was damaged in an early incident, but he took a different tack on the final restart. He restarted 24th and dropped back, finishing 27th.

“We just wreck all the time, so we thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a big points lead, let’s just be smart and don’t wreck and we’ll be able to get out of here with a top 10, assuming they would wreck because they always do,’” Logano said after the race. 

“That was the only time I’ve ever stayed in the back, ever, was today and they didn’t wreck. We gave up a bunch of our points lead. We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be, but, the goal was to race for stage points and then drop to the back and wait for the crash. I hate racing that way. I’ve gotten beat many times from people that do that, then I tried it and it didn’t work.”

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Michael McDowell’s third-place finish continues his strong season. 

McDowell’s finish extended his career-high of top-10 finishes to 12. He has five finishes of 11th or better in the last seven races. 

“I’m proud of the season we’ve had and the run that we put together,” McDowell said. “Everyone did a great job on pit road executing and getting us track position when we needed it. It’s good to be there at the end and have a shot at it, just disappointed.”

Front Row Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland finished seventh. 

“Race car drivers are greedy,” Gilliland said. “I wish I could have gotten a couple more there, but it was still a really good day. We ran up front most of the day and my car handled really well, so, overall, there are definitely a ton of positives to take out of this.”

Sunday marked the second time this season both Front Row Motorsports cars finished in the top 10. They also did it at the Indianapolis road course. 

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NASCAR confirms that the Hendrick Motorsports appeal of William Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas will take place Thursday.

Should Hendrick lose that appeal, the team could then have a hearing before the Final Appeals Officer. That session would need to take place before Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Twenty-five points in the playoffs is a ton,” car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday of Byron’s penalty. “I mean, in the regular season if you got a bunch of races, you can make it back up.

“I’ve seen other cars under caution hit each other. In that situation, (Byron) wasn’t trying to spin him, but they got a tower full of people, they could have put him in the back, could have done something right then rather than wait till Monday or Tuesday, then make a decision.”

Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega.