Race Weekend Central

The Streets of Chicago Paved With Gold?

Going into the race weekend in Chicago, there wasn’t a soul who could tell you for sure that the event was going to be good or bad. Different people had heartfelt opinions and no one was going to budge them from that position no matter how much logic they imparted. The NASCAR Xfinity Series race did its best to disappoint the masses and set up everyone for a terrible Sunday (July 2).

However, thanks to the weather and the immense talent of several drivers, the show ended up being a tremendous success. The only part that is a letdown at this point is there is no certainty that the series will return for a repeat performance in 2024.

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2-Headed Monster: Did Chicago Prove the Street Race Has a Home in NASCAR?

The previous administration in Chicago was completely on board with the race and was more than happy to work with NASCAR on making the event a success. The new administration that has taken over the city government is nowhere near as pro-NASCAR. There were some rumors floating around last weekend that, if NASCAR had to postpone the race to Monday, the price tag was going to be costly.

Hopefully, that is not the case. It is an embarrassment that an administration would so blatantly extort a sport sanctioning body that had negotiated in good faith to establish an enormous event that brought tremendous exposure to your city. Thankfully that didn’t happen. Now the question is, how will the two sides work this out so that the top series in NASCAR can return to the streets of Chicago for several years to come?

Sunday’s race was on the verge of being an abject disaster. The delayed start pushed the event later into the day which ultimately meant it was not going to be able to run the full scheduled distance. Several teams that did not have the best cars in the race gambled on an early pit stop that put them in front when the decision to shorten the race occurred.

Thank heavens that Shane van Gisbergen had the car and the talent to carve through the field like a surgeon. He went from about 19th to the lead over a period of roughly 20 laps as the race wound down. Kyle Larson was right with him for the entire drive through the field but couldn’t stick with him as he went past the final couple of cars.

With van Gisbergen winning in his first start, he became the sixth person in the history of the sport to do so and the first in the last 60 years. The uniqueness of this accomplishment is this was the first time the sport had ever run on a street course. No one in the sport had a notebook to lean on, so the natural ability and history that van Gisbergen has on street courses set him up for success as much or more than anyone else in the field.

The most amazing accomplishment is that he is used to shifting with his left hand and having the steering wheel on the opposite side of the car. He also notedly used the clutch to downshift, which certainly seemed to aid him in his ability to dramatically outbreak all of the other competitors.

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NASCAR Mailbox: The Future of SVG

With SVG’s success there obviously is an immediate discussion of having him come over and run the entire NASCAR Cup Series season. His Repco Supercars Championship team already indicated that it would be open to letting him out of his contract a year early. That would also lead to an easy opportunity for Red Bull to step back into the sport. It left the sport prematurely the last time it was in it; let’s hope that it will give it another legitimate shot.

As we look to SVG and hope that he might bring his talent to the Cup Series, we can also hope that the people who run the third-largest city in the country and look at whatever contracts are in place or extended to them and allow all of us the opportunity to see another shot at the street race in the heart of the major metropolis. The first one was exciting but it would be nice to know that it wasn’t a fluke.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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The France family with Bubba Wallace in tow, took their integrity and transparency to Chicago and made a sweetheart deal with former mayor Lori Lightfoot. A deal so good the Freedom of Information Act had to be used by the media to get the details.

The city council wasn’t involved in the decision to host the race. NASCAR and Lightfoot quietly and quickly made the deal. The affected council members weren’t consulted. They found out after the deal had been made.

Under the new mayor, city council members are still questioning the sweetheart deal given to NASCAR. So is the new mayor. 2nd ward alderman Brian Hopkins: “They’re making dollars and we’re making pennies.”

Who’s extorting who here? Do I sense some misplaced righteous indignation because you think NASCAR is somehow a victim in this deal?


SVG will return. City of Chicago is another story.

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