‘Unfinished business’ in the groundwork for Chicago Street Race’s second year

Enhancements, optimism and a more promising forecast greet the second edition of NASCAR’s Chicago Street Race Weekend.

CHICAGO — Julie Giese held the microphone at the top level of one of Chicago’s famed double-decker buses on a sun-splashed Friday afternoon, pointing out the landmarks and the second-year revisions to the street course that weaves its way through Grant Park’s downtown greenery. She is in her second year as the president of the Chicago Street Race Weekend and its many logistical challenges, but she doubles as a knowledgeable tour guide.

Concluding the low-speed lap of the circuit, she made the almost obligatory nod to the one thing that loomed over last year’s inaugural race that no one could control.

“It’s gonna be a fantastic weekend. The weather looks great; I probably just jinxed it,” Giese said with some sarcasm, adding on a quick up note, “but I’m going with it.”

Rolling into Year 2, a sense of optimism prevails over the Chicago Street Race’s early proceedings, replacing the uncertainty and skepticism that cloaked the event’s first running, the question being, “could NASCAR pull this off?” That answer ended up being yes, with an official race in the ledger and a surprising, storybook first-time Cup Series winner in Shane van Gisbergen, but also with history-making rain and storms that soaked and washed out a significant portion of the festival fanfare on the schedule.

RELATED: Weekend schedule: Chicago | At-track photos

The fingers are still crossed on the weather element holding steady for the second edition, but Giese says there’s plenty of motivation to carry out every facet of this year’s plan.

“I think rather than a do-over, I just feel like we have unfinished business,” Giese told NASCAR.com. “That’s something I’ve said, I feel like there’s a lot that we had planned last year that we just weren’t simply able to do. So really, that’s what our eye has been on this year is being able to execute that. Obviously, there’s things out of our control that there’s nothing we can do about it, but just making sure we’re ready for that. I think again, there’s a lot of … hopefully you can feel it within the city, this tangible excitement. People are excited the race is here and really look forward to the weekend.”

The final prep was still bustling Friday afternoon, with Cup and Xfinity Series teams setting up shop on Chicago’s otherwise busy commuter roads. The temporary 2.2-mile course will again host Saturday’s The Loop 110 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports App, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) for the Xfinity Series, culminating in Sunday’s Cup Series Grant Park 165 (4:30 p.m. ET, same networks) for the Cup Series.

Joe Gibbs Racing crew members push the No. 20 Toyota back to the Xfinity Series garage at the Chicago Street Race weekend

The main thoroughfares of Michigan Avenue and DuSable Lake Shore Drive shut down at 12:01 a.m. Friday, and the final placement of those streets’ remaining barriers, fencing and tire packs was among the finishing touches. That activity buzzed around the high-top bus, some 18 hours before the track was set to open for practice, but Giese said track officials were able to shave six full days off the timetable for this year’s set-up and teardown, finding efficiencies in the process from last year’s notes.

“I think again, we knew last year we were going to learn a lot,” Giese said. “Putting the barriers in, it was our first time doing it, it was the city’s first time doing it, so working closely with the city after the event, to be able to do an after-action plan and say, ‘here’s some ideas,’ and starting to work through it. Tightening that window was probably our biggest learning.”

The circuit’s layout itself is virtually unchanged, save for adjustments to the lane-choose location and spotter-stand locations. The same 2,000 concrete barriers line the course — 10,000 pounds each and transported in four at a time in 500 truckloads. But the other educational moments helped to shape some tweaks to the course’s amenities around those walls. Prominent among those:

  • A new, taller three-story Skyline structure for hospitality on the circuit’s main straightaway, replacing the wider, two-story building — constructed over a line of crabapple trees — from Year 1.
  • New frontstretch reserved seats that replace the Congress and garden suites from a year ago, plus expanded Turn 1 club seating.
  • More pedestrian bridges over the course to ease foot-traffic flow.
  • New harbor suites after the exit of Turn 2.
  • Three spotter locations, including a makeshift stand through Turns 3 and 4 that uses the top level of double-decker buses as a viewing platform.
  • An expanded NASCAR 101 learning experience in the Butler Field area, prompted by feedback from last year’s attendees — 85% of which were first-time visitors.
  • The addition of youth admission pricing and expanded single-day tickets.

Those enhancements complement the return of a full concert slate both days inside the park boundaries, which should provide the festival feel that was only partially realized last year.

“I think, you know, from a team aspect, from a driver aspect, and then selfishly as an Illinois native, right, the vibe is still really, really good,” said Xfinity Series veteran Justin Allgaier. “It is very different this year. I think that there was a lot of uncertainty last year amongst fans, amongst teams. I feel like a lot of those questions were answered pretty quickly throughout the course of the weekend last year. I was super-bummed at how everything ended, but I’m excited to get back up here. Beautiful weather, all the right things that I wish we would have had last year.”

MORE: NASCAR Chicago fan info

One aspect that’s already proven easier — finding your way around. Joey Logano — last week’s winner at Nashville Superspeedway — admitted to using his GPS to navigate to his hauler, the drivers’ lounge area, and other points along the circuit in 2023.

This year, the surroundings are more familiar, but Logano also sees a path toward a better Year 2 experience.

“It’s nice to have a lay of the land. I’m sure everyone could probably agree with that sitting in here, too,” Logano said. “That part’s great, but I think also, you talk to some of the fans, you’re just walking over here from the hotel and everyone seems to be very excited and the weather’s great, so the energy is much better. I feel like just last year everyone was so excited about it, like they are this year, but it just was kind of, yeah, but it’s going to rain. You know, everyone just kept talking about that, which this year everyone’s talking about how great the weather is. So, I think that really is going to give us a fair shake. I could see everything play out the way it’s supposed to on time with the schedule and the concerts and all that. Like everything can go the way it’s supposed to and be fun to see.”