That was the word of the day Tuesday (July 19) in downtown Chicago.
It was uttered by both Ben Kennedy and Bubba Wallace during the announcement that made the NASCAR Cup Series’ eventual arrival on the streets of America’s third-biggest city official.
Come July 2, 2023, NASCAR’s top series will compete in its first-ever street course race.
It’s about damn time.
NASCAR proved it could do this years ago.
For those who don’t remember, NASCAR sent the Xfinity Series to Montreal from 2007-12 to race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, which is considered a hybrid of a street course and a natural road course. Years before that, the NASCAR Southwest Series held multiple street course races in Los Angeles.
However, we’re just now getting around to the true-blue street course with the Cup Series.
You can blame it partially on the five-year sanctioning agreement NASCAR had with tracks that locked in race dates. That didn’t end until 2020, around the same time International Speedway Corp. was absorbed by NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports became a private company again.
In the two years since, we’ve gotten Cup races at Circuit of the Americas, World Wide Technology Raceway outside St. Louis, Bristol Motor Speedway dirt, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Nashville Superspeedway, the Clash at the L.A. Coliseum and Road America, the last of course falling victim to the Chicago race for the time being.
“I’d say of all the changes, this is our boldest change in the schedule,” Kennedy, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing development and strategy, said. “We’ve said […] that we want to be bold and innovative, and we think about new venues and new concepts that we’re going to. This is No. 1 on the list for us right now, and it’s certainly going to be the most anticipated event of our season and one of the biggest sport events in our country in 2023.”
Kennedy said the genesis of the 2023 race came in late 2019, around the same time NASCAR started the process that led to the Los Angeles race.
That included a visit to Chicago to scout Soldier Field as a potential site for the stadium race.
Now, Soldier Field may be visible through the windshields of Cup cars as they drive toward Turns 3 and 4 on the 12-turn 2.2-mile street course.
Here's a graphic of the proposed track layout for #NASCAR's Chicago street course.
Courtesy of the NASCAR media site. pic.twitter.com/1evE9GwLzF
— Daniel McFadin (@danielmcfadin) July 19, 2022
The idea of NASCAR’s Chicago street course race was planted in our minds 13 months ago with the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series event held on a virtual version of the track.
It was around this time that the talks between NASCAR and the City of Chicago began, which led to Tuesday’s news.
“This announcement is obviously unbelievable,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said.
It might be unbelievable for the roughly 100,000 fans who attended the last two years of July 4 weekend Cup races at Road America, the privately-owned track in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
Kennedy said it was “fair” to ask what message NASCAR had for the people who showed out in historic numbers to support the races at the iconic track. Now Cup won’t be back in 2023. This, after Phelps had previously said attendance would factor into scheduling decisions.
“It is unfortunate we’re not going back [to Road America in] 2023,” Kennedy said. “Just because it’s a no for 2023 doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a no forever. […]
“I think part of the calculus of the decision [was] certainly [a] similar kind of market, as you think about the proximity of the two venues from each other. Then I think it’s also important as we think about the number of types of tracks we have on the schedule. Something that we’ve heard is kind of the number of road courses, continuing to add road courses on the schedule. It’s important that we don’t oversaturate ourselves.
“I won’t say that’s the emphasis to the decision. There were a number of things that went into that decision.”
Kennedy earlier said Cup not returning to Road America was “not a financial decision at all.”
NASCAR’s Ben Kennedy says moving a Cup race from Road America to streets of Chicago was not a financial move. pic.twitter.com/bjae9EUfPR
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) July 19, 2022
“It’s more so being in a downtown location like this in a major market like Chicago,” Kennedy added. “And then, again, doing something for the very first time.”
For Wallace, whose 23XI Racing team co-owner Michael Jordan is a Chicago icon from his NBA days with the Bulls, there are a lot of “unknowns” with the street course race.
“This is monumental for our sport,” Wallace said. “If you’ve been following my journey for the last little bit, I’ve always said the unknowns is what excites me.
“I don’t know what to expect going into this deal. I know that these guys got a lot of work to do and the city does, too, to get it ready. […] Being in this city, bringing NASCAR to this demographic, we talk about how representation matters, and I think exposing this sport to this area, downtown, with so much to do around while the race is going on is super important.”
At the end of the day, that might be the only thing that matters around the race, whether it lasts one year or the reported three-year length of the deal.
As long as the event is held without any high-profile mistakes, as long as people who’ve never before been interested in or had access to a NASCAR Cup races are talking about it and curious about it, it’s a win-win scenario.
Just ask NASCAR’s most popular driver.
“We need to make sure it’s a good event,” Chase Elliott said two weeks ago. “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. It needs to be an event. 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.”
2022 is Daniel McFadin’s ninth year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his second year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can also be found at SpeedSport.com. And you can hear more from him on his podcast.
About the author
Daniel McFadin is a 7-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He's currently a freelancer and lead reporter and editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR show "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" on YouTube and in podcast form.
You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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