CHICAGO — The top 10 for the majority of the NASCAR Cup Series’ inaugural Chicago street course race and the top 10 that took the checkered flag on Sunday evening (July 2) looked very different.
That’s mainly because NASCAR made the call mid-race to shorten the distance from 100 laps to 75. This change made it so drivers who pitted on lap 31 and later could make it the rest of the way on fuel suddenly had the gift of track position. It put drivers such as Justin Haley, Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch into the top five as all of them could make it the rest of the way without stopping.
The drivers who had spent the majority of the race out front still had to pit, and so they had to spend the rest of the race climbing through the field.
Christopher Bell had dominated the Grant Park 250 up until that point. He led 37 of the opening 47 laps, the most of anyone, and won the first two stages.
But Bell had to give up the lead to get enough fuel to make it to the end, and he was never able to work his way back up through the field after that.
“When you’re racing to lap 100, you can’t pit that early [on lap 31] and make it on fuel,” Bell told Frontstretch. “I don’t know if the guys that pitted, if they were just trying to add a stop or if they were gambling on it going dark but it worked out for them.”
Winner Shane van Gisbergen and fourth-place finisher Kyle Larson were on the same strategy as Bell and had to work their way back up through traffic. Bell was right behind Larson, making passes, when he crashed late in the race and fell to 18th in the final running order.
“Just gotta execute the whole race,” Bell said. “We didn’t do that.”
Larson wasn’t as good at the start as Bell was, but he got better as the race went on. He finished seventh in the first stage before working his way up to second in stage two.
Not only did shortening the race mess up Larson’s track position, but the way NASCAR set running order after a lap 48 caution also hurt Larson. William Byron, Kevin Harvick and Corey LaJoie, among others, who were involved in that wreck got their spots back for the ensuing restart, which made Larson’s crew chief Cliff Daniels angry on the radio.
Hendrick Motorsports PR declined comment from Daniels but Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon noted that situations like shortening a race should be planned out ahead of time.
“Any of those situations, you would like to have some kind of protocols in advance to understand, OK, what’s the cut-off time where you don’t think that we can go past so that we can plan for, alright, this race will be shortened because they said …” Gordon told Frontstretch. “We can calculate lap times and all those things to kind of factor that in, and that’s what’s gonna help us make better decisions. …
“I’d like to also have protocols on, if they’re gonna freeze in a situation like that and then allow cars that were in the accident blend back in position once they start moving, they gotta make that a lot clearer and tell people in advance. Because I’ll be honest, I didn’t exactly agree with the way they handled that.”
Larson acknowledged that the scoring situation didn’t keep him out of victory lane, though.
“I think had that not happened, maybe I’d run one or two spots better,” Larson said. “But Shane [van Gisbergen] also was behind me, so he drove by me and got the lead. I wasn’t going to win.”
Martin Truex Jr. and Tyler Reddick were two other drivers who ran near the front most of the race that were affected by the race being shortened. Reddick was arguably the second best car on the day behind Bell, finishing second and third in the first two stages. Truex ran inside the top five for a lot of it and finished in the top eight in both stages.
Like Bell, both those drivers had wrecks trying to come back up through the field. Reddick ended up in 28th while Truex took 32nd.
“To me, it’s completely ridiculous,” Truex’s crew chief James Small said. “If they have any plans of doing that, they should’ve told us a lot earlier, especially when they shortened it by 25 minutes. Or, like any normal racing series, they probably should’ve told us before the start of the race, there’s a cutoff of 8:15 or 8:20, it’s a timed race, so we can actually calculate and do simple math and it’s fair for everybody.
“If everybody had of known that, then they would’ve pitted on lap 31 with the rest of those guys. We had thought they might shorten it five-10 laps, but when they did 25, it completely changed the race and killed it for a lot of people.”
About the author
Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.
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