There have been equal parts anticipation and consternation ahead of NASCAR’s first-ever street course on July 1st and 2nd. The all-new street course is set for The Loop 121 event in the Xfinity Series and the Grant Park 220 event in the Cup Series. Both are sure to bring new challenges not just to the drivers but to the city itself, but NASCAR plans to pick up new types of fans there.
Daytona champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. tested the already infamous street course. He’s not driving in the planned events but that’s why he was the perfect man to test NASCAR’s newest race.
Not Your Average NASCAR Race
Imperfection was the word of the day as Earnhardt Jr. recounted his experience of the proposed layout. That kind of imperfection is part of why it is already one of the year’s most unique and most anticipated races. Imperfect means unpredictable, something you don't get with the flat and tight F1 courses that most racing fans are familiar with. Those neat courses are very popular with drivers, fans and bookmakers alike, with paddypower.com giving odds on this year's F1 championship. They have Max Verstappen winning at 1/50 odds with his manufacturer Red Bull at 1/100 too. With such strong odds and a very level playing field, fans would do well to use a free bet calculator to carefully track possible returns and avoid surprises. Compared to an F1 course, these Chicago streets have those surprises in droves, with many imperfections and hazards that you'd never find on other racing tracks, even other NASCAR trails. We're sure the drivers will have mixed thoughts but when it comes to the fans, it's easy to see why old and new racing fans are excited for this new track.
Dale was understated in his rundown of the course. There are "cracks and imperfections" he said, but "we call that character in a racetrack". Character is certainly one word for it. In a car ride with CBS, Dale went as far as to point out strips of paint on the road, saying they will have "different grip than the surface of asphalt". At speeds near 100 miles an hour, that’s going to change the driver’s flow.
"Messy is Good"
As he surveyed the course, Dale opined on the course and how drivers will likely have a "messy" practice run before the event itself, “having problems, hitting things” and generally getting a feel for Chicago’s imperfect streets. "Messy is good," he added, saying that it’s part of the unique challenge when facing a street race. Of course, it’s also entertaining for new NASCAR fans in the area.
One turn in particular caught Dale’s attention, at the turnoff from South Columbus Drive to East Balbo Drive. Watch him dissect it here:
Another point of interest on the course is a tight semicircle curve at East Congress Plaza Drive, a sudden and drastic change from the straight streets and 90-degree turns that make up the rest of the course. Unfazed, Dale has said that he wants to try the course himself one day.
One Road Racer Calls His Shot
As drivers use virtual trainers to get a feel for the course ahead of time, one driver is being highlighted as a perfect fit for this new race. He went even further than that, saying he was going to win it.
That’s A.J. Allmendinger, the only attendee of the event with prior road course experience from his ChampCar days. It also wasn’t too long ago that he won the first road course to be included in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2021, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – indystar.com has the details. The course had a lot of ‘character’ there too, as seven contenders crashed. The Dinger clinched it in a wild finish that left other favourites in the dust.
Clearly, he thinks something similar is going to happen in Chicago in July. Allmendinger hasn’t impressed so far this year, so there are doubts, but if there’s any race that he could take then it’s this one.