What to Watch: Chicago ready for NASCAR’s second wind on city streets

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s Grant Park 165 on the Chicago Street Course, the 20th race of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Grant Park 165

(u23f0 Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET | NBC | NBC Sports App | MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Weekend schedule | TV schedule | Weather tracker | NASCAR 101

Location: Chicago
Track length: 2.2 miles
Race purse: $7,978,831
Race distance: 75 laps | 165 miles
Stages: 20 | 45 | 75

Starting lineup: Kyle Larson speeds to pole position
Pit stall assignments:
See where drivers will pit
Defending winner:
Shane van Gisbergen, July 2023

Key things to watch

Saturday sessions

Kyle Larson wheels through Windy City

A last-second dash across the alternate start/finish resulted in Kyle Larson’s leap to the Busch Light Pole Award by 0.01 seconds over Ty Gibbs, claiming the top starting spot at 90.168 mph. Completing the top five in an eventful time-trial session around the Chicago Street Course were Michael McDowell, Tyler Reddick and defending event winner Shane van Gisbergen.

Larson and van Gisbergen also posted the two fastest laps during Saturday’s practice session, besting Gibbs, Daniel Suárez and Alex Bowman. Bowman had the quickest 10-lap average of the session of the 16 drivers who completed at least 10 consecutive circuits. | Full Saturday recap

Big story line

Chicago shaping up for thrilling sequel

The streets of Chicago are alive with the sound of speed once again as NASCAR thunders down Michigan Avenue and DuSable Lake Shore Drive in the second edition of the Chicago Street Race Weekend.

The stars are set for an encore performance after last year’s soggy-yet-sensational debut. Defending winner Shane van Gisbergen — a relatively seasoned ace in NASCAR with 19 Xfinity starts and an additional three Cup starts since his stunning 2023 debut triumph — excelled thanks in large part to his vast experience racing street circuits in Australia’s Repco Supercars Championship, where SVG is a three-time champ. But the talented Cup field now has specific data to point to from 2023, potentially closing the gap to New Zealand’s NASCAR representative this time around.

“I think for sure there will be more of them (up front),” van Gisbergen said Friday. “There was a lot of guys who were fast — you know, five or six fast guys last year, especially in qualifying. There were some big laps. But this year, there’s just gonna be more. There’s more guys with data, more guys will have better setups learning what they learned last year, I think. I think there’s gonna be a big chance to be 10 or 15 guys.

“That’s the best thing I find about NASCAR. It’s not the same people every week (fighting for wins). It’s so competitive, this series, and so tight, so hopefully it’s us that’s in there as well.”

Joey Logano won last week’s race on the 1.33-mile Nashville Superspeedway, but only one of his 33 career wins has come on a road course — a 2015 race at Watkins Glen. Like his Cup compatriots, Logano has put in plenty of prep work to improve. The question remains: whose efforts will prove most fruitful?

“Am I ready? I’m as ready as I know how to be,” Logano said. “I’m more ready than I was last year, I can tell you that much. But the whole field is. At least you have an idea of what you’re up against and what it’s going to be like. Those first few laps in practice last year was kind of sketchy, right? You’re just like, ‘I don’t know. In the sim, I brake here, but I mean, how good’s the sim gonna be? Like, I’m on the streets of Chicago. I don’t know.’

“But yeah, we seemed to figure it out fairly quickly. Now … you study your competitors and kind of see where they were strong, where you were weak. You have an idea of things you want to make better to your car. There’s actually stuff to talk about where last year, it was just, I don’t know, put in what (setup) you think is best and we’ll tune on it from there and hope it’s pretty close. Now it seems like we have a little better direction.”

TICKETS: Don’t miss the July 7 Chicago Street Race

History tells us…

Not much. With just one downtown race in the books that featured plenty of wet-weather racing, there remains plenty to learn through Sunday’s event.

Racing Insights notes Toyotas led 46 of the opening 47 laps during the inaugural, courtesy of Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs, with Bell sweeping the stages after Denny Hamlin scored the pole position in qualifying. But strategy flipped when the race’s length was shortened from its scheduled 100-lap distance to 75 due to the impending sunset, putting Justin Haley and SVG in prime position to capitalize and lead the final 31 laps through overtime.

He may not be the betting favorite to win, but watch out for…

AUSTIN CINDRIC. Cindric is still looking for his first road-course-style victory in the Cup Series, but the driver of Team Penske’s No. 2 Ford could offer a surprise come Sunday. Entering Chicago at 50-1 odds on DraftKings, Cindric has seven top-10 finishes on road courses, his most top 10s on any track type, including a sixth-place finish at Chicago in 2023.

Cindric’s racing career began with a focus on road racing, including multiple starts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series and two starts in the 12-hour Bathurst event at Australia’s famed Mount Panorama Circuit. That experience led to five road-course wins in the Xfinity Series as well as a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in 2017. | Chicago odds

Speed reads

Our biggest pieces of the week — get covered for race day from all angles.

• Chicago 101: Course map, track layout and race information for Sunday’s spectacle | Read article
• ‘Unfinished business’:
Chicago Street Course president Julie Giese on Year 2 in Chicago | Read article
• Berry ripe for No. 21:
Josh Berry to join Wood Brothers in 2025 | Read article
• Chicago still SVG’s kind of town?:
Van Gisbergen still having his moment one year later | Read article
• Hocevar penalized: Spire driver docked 25 points, fined $50,000 after Nashville | Read article
• Streak, for starters: Chase Elliott, all top 20s so far in 2024 | Photo gallery
• Extra innings:
NASCAR’s overtime policy through the lenses of other sports | Read article
• Power Rankings: Reddick ready to turn up the wick in Chicago? | Photo gallery
• Turning Point: Playoff pressure peaking, plus how Logano stretched his Nashville fuel tank | Read article
• Racing Insights: Who can challenge SVG this year? Inside our experts’ projections | Read article
• Field of 16: How the projected playoff picture shakes out with eyes on Chicago | Read article
• 36 for 36: Check out this week’s survivor pool picks | Read article
• Fantasy Fastlane:
All in on Kaulig on the city streets | Read article
• Fantasy Update: Arguments for, against Larson; Gibbs remains impressive | Read article
• NASCAR Classics:
Flashback to 2023 and prior Midwestern hits before Sunday’s street race | Read article
• Paint Scheme Preview: Street styling set to shine in Chi-Town | Pick your favorite

Fast facts u23e9

Race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.

Despite a rain-soaked Sunday in 2023, Saturday’s practice and qualifying sessions were held in the dry. Shane van Gisbergen was quickest in practice by three-tenths of a second over Denny Hamlin, who won the pole.
Hendrick Motorsports has won each of the two road-course races in 2024 (William Byron, Circuit of The Americas; Kyle Larson, Sonoma Raceway).
The driver who led the most laps has won four of the last five road-course races.