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The Art of NASCAR Racing in the Rain: Chicago-Style

I wasn’t sure how this street race in Chicago would turn out. While hoping for the best, I was on the fence not only about the drivers’ ability to not turn this into a crashfest into Turn 1, but also thought this much-hyped event was nothing more than another NASCAR gimmick to drive eyes onto the sport even for a brief period of time.

The weekend weather was a disaster right up until race time and I had memories of NASCAR’s first time going back to racing in the rain which was an unmitigated disaster.

But lo and behold, the rain stopped and NASCAR ran the race because they really had no other choice. I don’t think closing off the city for another day due to rain was in the cards. The teams had wet and dry tires, so have at it boys.

And that they did.

The race was not only entertaining but it was really good racing with New Zealander and Australian Supercar champ  winning his first ever NASCAR race for Justin Marks’ Project 91 team.

Shane Van Who?

Shane Van Gisbergen, driver of the #91 Enhance Health Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, celebrates his victory Sunday, July 2, 2023, after winning the first-ever NASCAR Cup Series street race, the Grant Park 220, through the streets of Chicago, Illinois. This is the first NASCAR CUP victory for the New Zealander in his first ever NASCAR Cup race. He is a three time Supercars champion. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)

As many ways as you can think to butcher the pronunciation, the NBC team did it. You would think that a professional broadcasting organization would have a meeting ahead of the race and say, “OK guys, here is how you pronounce his name.” But you would be wrong. SVG was an easy shorthand for the driver and it was used occasionally but given all the ways the broadcasting team tried to pronounce it, I am not sure any of them got it right. And considering the race was covered in radio fashion, there were more people to mess it up than usual.

Any way you want to pronounce his name, he probably doesn’t care after that incredible performance. SVG started in the Top 5 with Denny Hamlin and Tyler Reddick on the front row. As soon as the green flag flew, Reddick showed he wasn’t going to fool around and jumped all over the lead from Hamlin, who promptly slid into the tire barrier on lap 2. Reddick would lead 8 laps overall and stay in contention until a lap 57 tire barrier excursion.

That’s what kind of day it was for many of the Cup regulars. Noah Gragson hit every tire barrier there was, Martin Truex, Jr. was sliding all over the track, Kyle Busch found the tire barrier on lap 3, Alex Bowman seemed to be pointing backwards as much as he was forward, and so on.

The tire barriers worked exceptionally well allowing drivers like Busch to continue racing once extracted from the barrier. And like many road courses, the drive off areas and local cautions saved us from a few more full race cautions.

The rain delay and heavy cloud cover made NASCAR shorten the race to 75 laps due to concerns for darkness since the course had no illumination set up.

Once teams started stopping for dry tires, things changed quickly. Teams were also planning on the 75 laps and gambling on the number of pit stops as there were more and more cautions. The race that had become the Christopher Bell Show changed with that as well as his visit to the tire barrier. Lap 48 saw Justin Haley take over as leader and he was able to hold off Chase Elliott, who had recovered from an early race spin, and SVG through several more cautions.  The final cautions were alps 67 and 73 as SVG and Haley battled for the lead. SVG and Haley traded the lead back and forth before SVH pulled away on the final restart and never looked back.

Things of note: Tick tock, people.

Even though Haley and Elliott had great finishes, they are still mired back in the points and both needed that Chicago win. Having an outsider steal one of the final races is a real kick to the groin for the teams struggling to get that all important win.

For Elliott, yeah P3 is awesome but when Austin Cindric, Michael MacDowell, Ty Gibbs and Chris Buescher also finish in the Top 10 and are ahead of you in points, your job just got a lot harder.

Next up: Atlanta

Chase Elliott is the laps leader since 2020 and he won there in 2022. The other recent winners are Joey Logano (2023), William Byron (2022), Ryan Blaney (2021) and Kevin Harvick (2020). All but Blaney did it by leading the most race laps as well. Atlanta is the fastest 1.5 mile track on the circuit and since 2020, Blaney leads all drivers in best average finish on 1.5 mile tracks.

Will Logano sweep the Atlanta races this year? He stands as good a shot as anyone in the field. I would pay special attention to William Byron and MTJ this week. While the Chicago race got away from MTJ, he was running pretty well and he is in a groove right now. Kyle Busch is another driver I like at Atlanta. While he hasn’t always been the fastest, if RCR can give him power he could make a run for the win. Blaney could be a Top 5 finisher but I am not sure they have the mojo for a win right now. Same for Chase Elliott. I think missing those races has hurt the team chemistry and while he is capable of winning, I think he is a Top 10 finisher.

This track would also be a great place for Kevin Harvick to take home another win in his final season. If I had to pick a sentimental winner, he is the one.

Keep the shiny side up, folks. Happy (belated) 4th.

(Photo by Tom Copeland/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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