CHICAGO — While the newest generation of drivers will get to experience it, a few former drivers in NASCAR are just as eager to see what will happen in the “Windy City” in early July.
That’s why a few of them were in downtown Chicago on Wednesday along with two current drivers to check out the 2.2-mile street race course.
NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Jarrett along with 21-race winner Jeff Burton joined current driver AJ Allmendinger were in town to see the layout of the circuit in The Loop.
Their visit comes a month before the drivers of the Cup and Xfinity Series take to the course for the first time for the inaugural Chicago Street Race on July 1 and 2. It’s arguably the most intriguing event on NASCAR’s 2023 36 Cup and 33 Xfinity race schedule.
“This is facinating,” said Earnhardt of the Chicago Street Race. “Never would I have thought that NASCAR would do a street course race, much less in the great City of Chicago. So we’re excited, the course looks great. I’m just looking forward to the day we get here and we’ve got barriers up, fences up, and cars are going around.
“That will be fun.”
Earnhardt, who was one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers of the last generation and a two-time Daytona 500 winner, is currently an analyst for NBC Sports. Jarrett, the 1999 Cup Series winner and three-time Daytona 500 champions, and Burton, who won 21 Cup Series races, also work the network and will be on the call for the Chicago Street Race.
Allmendinger has competed in 14 races this year, including a 14th-place finish in Charlotte with Kaulig Racing. He like other teams and drivers is trying to get a feel for what the 2.2-mile course will be like with the understanding that they won’t truly know until they arrive for practice before the event.
“The track’s been scanned, but nobody’s been on it,” said Allmendinger. “So as we work on the simulation and driving the racetrack and trying to learn the racetrack, teams are trying to learn setup, you get an understanding of the racetrack, but you don’t know until you get on the racetrack how close is this simulation.
“We only have 50 minutes of practice before we qualify and before we race, so that’s not a lot of time to learn the race track, let alone to figure out what the setup needs. It’s unique in a lot of ways.”
NASCAR’s races in July will be the first appearance in the Chicagoland area by the stock racing company since 2019 when they staged their events at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet. They had been at that track since 2001 and were scheduled to return in 2020 before the pandemic canceled the events.
Chicagoland Speedway was left off the schedule in 2021 and 2022.