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NASCAR Cup Chicago Street Course

NASCAR explains decision to shorten Chicago Cup race

In a call that upended Christopher Bell's dominant day, NASCAR shortened the inaugural running of the Chicago Street Course event from 100 to 75 laps.

Harrison Burton, Wood Brothers Racing, Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford Mustang and Austin Cindric, Team Penske, Discount Tire Ford Mustang

The decision, which came just before the halfway point due to impending darkness, completely changed the complexion of the race.

Drivers who had pitted during earlier caution periods could potentially stretch the fuel and make it to the abbreviated distance without any further stops. 

This was not the case for race leader Christopher Bell, who had won both stages. After he and the other frontrunners pitted at the conclusion of Stage 2, he restarted in 12th position and never made it back to the lead.

His crew chief Adam Stevens came over the radio after NASCAR made the call, saying: "Well, there it is, they f***** us."

The timing

Although shortening races due to impending darkness has been done before, the timing of the decision was criticised, with some saying it gave an unfair advantage to those who had pitted prior.

Even still, it was one of the drivers who were caught out by the call that actually went on to win the race, with Shane van Gisbergen driving from 18th to 1st in the closing laps.

The drivers who finished second (Justin Haley) and third (Chase Elliott) were among those who had gained substantial track position after pitting just prior to the call being made. Looking through the finishing order, half of the top-ten finishers were beneficiaries of the call to shorten the race while the other half were forced to pit at an inopportune time because of it.

Bell, who led a race-high 37 laps, ended up 18th after a late-race spin.

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, CRAFTSMAN Racing For A Miracle Toyota Camry

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, CRAFTSMAN Racing For A Miracle Toyota Camry

Photo by: Lesley Ann Miller / Motorsport Images

Steve O'Donnell, Chief Operating Officer for NASCAR, explained the thought process behind the decision and why they made it when they did.

"Yeah, I would say there was a lot of thought put into that decision," said O'Donnell. "At the time we made it, we waited as long as possible to see if we could get all 100 laps in.

"When we knew that wasn't possible, we waited, we closed pit road. We wanted to make sure everybody knew what the race distance was going to be. Everyone had a chance to come in, pit the car, get fuel. We wanted to take fuel mileage out of it.

"I think we've had conversations with some who may have thought it was unfair who pitted on the same lap that the leader did and won.

"I think we're more than comfortable with the way the decision (that) was made in this case. Certainly, it can be second-guessed anytime you have to do this, but I feel like the process played out well. Would have liked to get all 100, but we wanted to be as fair as possible for the fans and also not put ourselves in a position where we're getting questions of why are you racing in the dark."

The fact that NASCAR got the race in on Sunday at all shocked many who were watching. Record rainfall in the city completely flooded the street course and forced the sanctioning body to make the unprecedented decision to end the already postponed NASCAR Xfinity race, which never reached halfway.

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