Are critics’ concerns about the safety of drivers and fans at this weekend’s Chicago street course race warranted?
Vito Pugliese: I wouldn’t necessarily call it fearmongering; it’s not an inaccurate statement to say that the city of Chicago is home to a number of shootings and murders. While other tracks are near areas equally affected, those are actual facilities holding the event. The Chicago circuit is literally just on the streets, albeit in a relatively safe area with a strong police presence this weekend. That said, it is the responsibility of any attendee to manage their own level of risk and safety with regards to where they elect to go in the areas outside of where the race is taking place, just as they would in any other city for a sporting event.
Phil Allaway: These concerns are absolutely not warranted. Grant Park is probably the safest place in Chicago on a normal day. It will be even more so for this race. That stuff is just a bunch of talking points being parroted by a pack of morons that either have never been to Chicago or have some kind of personal agenda. Makes you wonder about those people and what they’re really trying to say. Probably doesn’t have anything to do with NASCAR.
Zach Gillispie: While the concern is justifiable, the fearmongering is not. Violence and crime are plaguing some cities, but singling out Chicago is a bit unfair. However, if we completely ignore our concerns, we are automatically letting our guard down. One thing we do have to remember is that city backdrops present a much larger security challenge than closed-course permanent circuits. At these permanent circuits, security is more centralized to protect the individuals at the stadium. However, cityscapes contain hundreds of thousands of people who are doing myriad activities (not just attending a race) in a tightly confined space. No matter what city the street race is held in, there should be heightened concern.
Wyatt Watson: NASCAR is always has safety as its No. 1 concern. There will always be people that are concerned with the safety of both drivers and fans alike, but the concerns for safety should be laid to rest. NASCAR would not be putting on this event if it was concerned about the fan or driver safety even slightly.
Mike Neff: Safety concerns are no different than any other major sports venue. Nefarious individuals do horrible things everywhere. Statistically Chicago is not extremely high on the list of violent crimes, so this event does not present an unnecessary risk for fans.
Luken Glover: Any time one hosts a sporting event, there is a risk carried. That is why leagues were hesitant to return to action immediately following 9/11, why we have increased security and why fans are monitored constantly. The fearmongering is inappropriate, and I am expecting a safe event. However, there is validity to concerns some may have. We live in a broken world, so anywhere can be a threat, and major cities are some of the most vulnerable. Chicago is far from the only city with violence, but there is a reason that it carries a certain stigma. As others have mentioned, this is taking place over a spread out area, not a controlled facility. Risk management certainly was accounted for, but even with increased security, there is vulnerability over multiple streets. Is fearmongering warranted? No. But shutting down any notion of a risk is not only poor awareness, it is also irresponsible, ignorant and makes me question whether those doing so actually care about the event or if they are distracted by the luster of going to a city.
Teammates Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman are both outside of the top 16 as the list of NASCAR Cup Series winners continues to grow. Will they need to win to get in the playoffs?
Allaway: Alex Bowman is two points out of the playoffs right now. My guess is that he won’t need to win, but Chase Elliott will. Had he not been suspended for intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600, maybe that answer would be different.
Glover: A deep dive into the standings reveals that two spots are likely going to be open after you account for winners and those with a healthy points gap, barring a slew of new winners. That battle will very likely come down between Bubba Wallace, Daniel Suarez, Bowman, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger, Elliott and maybe Michael McDowell if he capitalizes on road courses and superspeedways. Bowman does not need a win as of right now, and if he finds that speed he had prior to the injury, then he will be in good shape. Elliott is actually just over a full race behind the cut line. A string of races with a strong amount of points will get him back in the hunt. However, banking on points can quickly go wrong. Just ask Martin Truex Jr. a year ago.
Gillispie: Realistically, there are two playoff spots that are still being fought for, as the rest have either been claimed by a winner this season or the drivers that currently possess them are around 100 points or more above the cut line. Bowman currently is in the conversation to grab one of those two final spots on points, while Elliott is miles behind. There are still plenty of races remaining for a winner outside of the current playoff grid to grab a spot. For everybody 15th on back in points, which Elliott and Bowman are, this is a must-win situation.
Pugliese: Bowman, yes. Elliott possibly could simply because he’s consistently running better. Both have missed races due to circumstances they arguably could have controlled, but Bowman is definitely in a more precarious situation than Elliott.
Neff: Bowman should be in with no problem, even without a win. Elliott is roughly a full race’s points behind in the standings. It is possible that he could point his way in, but the more likely scenario for him is a victory.
Watson: Elliott, yes. Bowman, not yet. The big difference between the two is that Elliott is 62 points behind the cut line, and that gap will only increase with surprise winners behind it. Bowman on the other hand can still theoretically point his way in as long as there isn’t two winners outside/near the cut line.
Should Carl Edwards give NASCAR another shot, or has the sport passed him by?
Gillispie: Many thought Carl Edwards was never coming back, but he’s been at the racetrack quite a bit in 2023. So Edwards is coming back. Mark my words.
Neff: How would driving cars quickly in circles pass someone by? It is possible that his physical capabilities have diminished but the sport is not that different from when he ran. If he does take a shot, let’s hope it is for a full season and not some one-off runs.
Pugliese: Absolutely not. His walk-off shot was getting jobbed out of a championship due to a 30th-place car with a flat tire, race easily in hand. He quit in part because of concern over his safety and being able to call it a career without any injuries. This current car is a far cry from the one he exited with regards to the transfer of energy upon impact. One look at Ryan Blaney‘s car after it got turned on a restart accelerating up through third gear should be deterrent enough.
Watson: Edwards should make a return when he is ready and committed to jumping back into the car, whether it is a one-off, part time or full time. It’s been uplifting to see him come back to the events he’s attended, and like Hamlin alluded to on his podcast, the more Edwards comes out to these races, the stronger the itch will become to strap back in.
Glover: You can definitely sense an itch is there, as Hamlin also said. When a driver has that itch, they typically find a way to return, even if it’s not in NASCAR. However, you hear most retired drivers say that if they were to return, it would have to be in a winning situation. As understandable as that is, how realistic is it? Superspeedways present the best opportunity for that, but the high speeds typically make drivers think otherwise. Road courses would be the other scenario, but the days of road course upsets are far and few between right now. Edwards should come back, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he does. However, it should be in the NASCAR Xfinity or NASCAR Craftsman Truck series, circuits where he could absolutely compete given the right opportunity.
Allaway: The ball is in Edwards’ court. We know that he’s in shape to do it and claims to still have the itch. Does he want to scratch it? If he wants to, he can, but he already knows that there’s going to be a learning curve. He’ll have to understand that he wouldn’t be winning out of the box.
Sheldon Creed was penalized but not suspended for on-track retaliation in the Xfinity Series. After parking others this season, is this an example of inconsistency from NASCAR?
Neff: Every situation in racing is different. NASCAR does its best to analyze each situation on its own merits. Precedent does play a role, but it still comes down to the facts surrounding each individual instance.
Glover: The argument here is that while Sheldon Creed will still race, he did lose points; Elliott did not directly. However, how many potential points did Elliott lose by not being able to compete at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway? In Creed’s defense, he did not right-rear someone on a high-speed oval on the frontstretch. At the same time, it was another intermediate track, and intentionally wrecking someone is a big no-no. I wouldn’t call it complete inconsistency, but it still makes some scratch their heads.
Allaway: The only difference here is that Creed didn’t right-rear Sammy Smith. Had he right-reared Smith into the wall at Nashville Superspeedway, he would be sitting out this weekend. As a result, it is not an example of inconsistency. I don’t know how NASCAR is going to handle these types of issues on short tracks, but what we’re seeing on intermediate tracks is for intermediates.
Watson: If compared to how Hamlin wrecked Ross Chastain at the end of the Phoenix Raceway event intentionally, NASCAR made the right call since there was clear radio communication that Creed intentionally wrecked Smith. Creed wrecking him in the turn wouldn’t warrant a full suspension for a race, but the 25-point penalty and fine are in line with what NASCAR has done similarly this season.
Pugliese: Yes. I could write a novel with regards to how Richard Childress Racing has historically been treated differently in the past, but I don’t want to wear out the keyboard on my PC.
Gillispie: The last time NASCAR was consistent was 1947.
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