Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: Street-Smart Drivers

You may have heard: NASCAR is hitting the street this weekend, literally.

The Chicago street course is a historic endeavor for the sport, marking the first time in its 75-year history that NASCAR will race on city streets.

The excitement of race drivers fighting for glory in the heart of a modern city will certainly be a sight to behold. With limited runoff, narrow confines and pavement that is constantly abused by street traffic, the 37 drivers will have an uphill challenge to navigate the new complexities of an unknown foe.

While this is a brand new foray, not everybody will be green. Many competitors in the field this weekend bring a plethora of street racing experiences from other racing series.

Jenson Button

The most street course experience in the field comes largely from the ringers, drivers who actively compete in different series while making rare appearances in NASCAR on tracks that suit their specialized disciplines.

Jenson Button is no stranger to the streets, as his 17-year Formula 1 career took him to many of the world’s best street layouts, including the Baku city circuit, the streets of Montreal and the most famous of them all, the streets of Monaco.

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While Button’s vast experience in this discipline at motorsports’ highest level may set him up for success in this inaugural event, the Brit’s limited seat time in a racecar capable of full contact racecraft may hurt him on the very narrow streets of Chicago.

You can find out by watching him compete in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 15 Ford as he makes his second NASCAR Cup Series start.

Andy Lally

Andy Lally is once again making an appearance in NASCAR. One of the most versatile road races in the country, Lally’s street racing resume is nothing short of impressive.

From Concord Pacific Place in the Barber Dodge Series to Long Beach in IMSA to the streets of Houston in the Atlantic championship, Lally has crisscrossed the country over the past several decades thrilling fans across urban centers in large metropolises. Even though Le Mans is not a true city street circuit, the 48-year-old has two starts there too.

Lally driver a team car to Button, the No. 51 RWR Ford.

Shane van Gisbergen

The driver with arguably the most street racing under his belt is the newest driver in NASCAR and the last ringer on this list: Shane van Gisbergen. He actively competes on Australia’s top street course layouts, as they are sprinkled throughout the Supercars Championship.

The tight corners and long straights of layouts such as the Surfers Paradise and Reid Park street circuits that van Gisbergen is familiar with somewhat resemble those of Chicago. Combined with the thousands of laps spent turned on Mount Panorama, a circuit many consider to be the toughest public street course in the world, van Gisbergen’s street experience in a similar full-bodied car should benefit the 34-year-old.

He’ll make his NASCAR debut driving the No. 91 for Trackhouse Racing.

Michael McDowell

Van Gisbergen is not the only driver to have experience on an Australian street course. Prior to becoming a stock car driver, Michael McDowell was an open-wheel prospect, which ultimately led to a Champ Car start on the streets of Surfers Paradise in 2005. The 2021 Daytona 500 winner has also made Grand Am Cup starts at Long Beach.

McDowell drives his regular No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford with sponsorship from Chicago Pneumatic Compressors this weekend.

See also
Dropping the Hammer: Let's Talk About the Chicago Street Course

AJ Allmendinger

Like McDowell, AJ Allmendinger‘s racing career started with a lengthy open-wheel stint. His very successful Champ Car career brought Allmendinger to many cities with famed street circuits like Long Beach, Vancouver, Surfers Paradise and Toronto, as well as shorter-lived ones such as Denver, Monterrey and San Jose.

Allmendinger also garnered experience on the streets in IndyCar, Toyota Atlantic and Barber Dodge.

He will wheel the No. 16 Kaulig Racing entry once again this weekend.

Austin Cindric

Austin Cindric‘s experience primarily came from driving USF2000 cars on the streets of St. Petersburg, Houston and Toronto in the mid-2010s. The 24-year-old also made a trip down under to drive a sports car around Mount Panorama in 2015 at the age of 17.

Cindric pilots the No. 2 for Team Penske.

About the author

Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.

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I have a feeling it’s going to be a huge parade of cars that can’t pass. The US version of Monaco. Too narrow to pass. The walls may reach and grab someone near the front but that’s the only passing that is really going to happen. I hope I’m wrong.

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