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NASCAR Cup Nashville

NASCAR Chicago race will be everything from "insane" to "brilliant"

Street racing is not new to motorsport, but it will make its much-anticipated debut in NASCAR this weekend in Chicago, but what can fans expect?

Chicago street map

The 12-turn, 2.2-mile street course will take the Cup and Xfinity series through the city with the start/finish line and pit road placed on South Columbus Drive, near the iconic Buckingham Fountain.

The course will run through Grant Park and approach the northern edge of Soldier Field, home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears. The track will also run along Lake Michigan on South Lake Shore Drive.

It’s no surprise NASCAR’s newest venture has its share of detractors – both in the local community and those who think stock cars have no business racing city streets in general – but Autosport gathered some unique perspectives on what may lie in store for competitors and fans this weekend.

“I love great events”

This is veteran Kevin Harvick’s final full-time season in the Cup Series and the future Hall of Famer has been a part of many of NASCAR’s new ventures.

Harvick has been a vocal advocate for NASCAR and track owners to transform Cup races into bigger “events” and sees Chicago as the perfect example.

“I look back at the Busch Clash last year at the L.A. Coliseum and, before we left for that race, everybody thought it was going to be a complete joke and we thought we were going to look like complete fools, but it was probably the best event of last year,” Harvick said.

Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, Busch Light Ford

Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, Busch Light Ford

Photo by: Gavin Baker / NKP / Motorsport Images

“When you look back at that and you remember how much fun you had in the car, and you see the way it was perceived and the way the racing was and everything that happened, it was a phenomenal way to kick off our season.

“Chicago’s obviously a huge market for anything with all the people and eyeballs, and I’m all for events, great events – I love great events – and Chicago is going to be an event. It’s in a great setting, and I think everybody’s looking forward to the challenge of the course and trying to do everything we need to do to put on a good show.”

“I think it’s brilliant”

Former Cup star Carl Edwards abruptly ended his NASCAR career after the 2016 season and only this season has started making appearances at tracks again.

Edwards, a native Midwesterner, had glowing praise when asked about his thoughts on the Chicago Street Race.

“I got to run the sim just a little bit. It’s going to be insane. I think it’s brilliant. I think what NASCAR’s doing, going into new places, specifically a street course in Chicago – that’s crazy,” he said. “I think people are going to love it. I know a lot of people in Chicago aren’t excited about it; I’ve seen some of that news. That’s fine. You got to give them something to complain about.

“I’m excited to see those race cars out there. I talked to (Trackhouse Racing co-owner) Justin Marks, he’s running the race on Saturday, he’s got a lot of cool things going on for Sunday. I think it’s going to be wild.

“Yeah, I’m going to watch it. That’s one for sure. Those cars are not made to do that type of racing. To me that’s what it’s about – it’s wrestling those cars and trying to figure it out. New track, tight quarters, it’s bumpy – that’s as good as it gets.”

“The purest form of the sport”

Marks is the co-owner of one of the most successful new teams in the Cup series in Trackhouse Racing but he is also a former driver – and still does compete occasionally.

Marks, who enjoyed most of his success in sports car racing, will drive in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Chicago and anxiously awaits the opportunity.

“When you go street racing, you take your product to the people. You take it right to a city. You have a lot of people that come to the race that aren’t race fans, but they want to see what it’s all about, what’s going on,” he said.

Justin Marks, Niece Motorsports, Worldwide Express Chevrolet Silverado

Justin Marks, Niece Motorsports, Worldwide Express Chevrolet Silverado

Photo by: Gavin Baker / NKP / Motorsport Images

“I’m really excited about the street racing concept. It’s kind of how racing started. Automobile racing started 100 years ago, 125 years ago, was putting cars on roads and seeing who could get the fastest from one point to another.

“That’s to me the purest form of the sport. You put souped-up cars on a street and see how fast they can go down the street. I think it’s a beautiful thing from that standpoint.”

“It’s a very big moment”

NASCAR’s first attempt at anything new generally sets the course on whether it sticks around and most see this weekend’s street race as no exception.

In its history, NASCAR has raced at Soldier Field (in the 1950s) and in a track located in the suburb of Joliet, Ill., but this weekend’s outcome could determine the future of racing in the city – or on any city streets for that matter.

Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will be part a part of NBC Sports’ broadcast team covering the events this weekend, made an appearance at the site of the track last month and gave ride-a-longs on the prospective course in an SUV.

Dale Earnhardt Jr

Dale Earnhardt Jr

Photo by: Barry Cantrell / NKP / Motorsport Images

“It’s a very big moment for NASCAR for many reasons. It’ll determine the future of racing for NASCAR in the city of Chicago. It’ll determine the future of NASCAR racing on our streets,” he said.

“Street racing has always kind of been a curiosity for everyone in the industry. So, we’re going to check that box and understand exactly how that fits into our world.

“We want to put drivers through some of the toughest challenges we can, and I think this track will do that. There’ll be some guys that really like it. There will be some guys that find it really challenging and miserable.”

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