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Historic NASCAR Debut Revving Through the Chicago

Written by Destiny Lam, Edited by Sean McKean

As the relentless rain in downtown Chicago subsided, NASCAR created history in their 75th season when Shane van Gisbergen became the first driver in more than 60 years to achieve victory in his debut NASCAR Cup Series.

Credit - Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Following months of anticipation and eagerness, the first ever NASCAR Cup Series street course race finally makes its way to downtown Chicago on July 2, 2023, after the additional Xfinity Series - The Loop 121 - race. With both races offering live concerts, engaging audience interactions, special guests appearances, and a multitude of entertainment choices for all ages, the bitter weather failed to scare off fans from having a great time and fully immersing themselves in the enjoyment of the Chicago street race weekend.


Positioned near the iconic Buckingham Fountain, the start/finish line of the race offered a scenic backdrop of Lake Michigan and Grant Park. The city of Chicago underwent a transformative change as its streets were converted into a challenging 2.2-mile street course race. With a total of 12 turns, including seven 90-degree, this intricate new track presented the drivers with numerous obstacles ahead. The persistent rainfall further intensified the race, exposing the drivers to even greater risk and adding an extra layer of difficulty to an already demanding event.


Xfinity Series

The Loop 121 began the Chicago street course race weekend on the afternoon of July 1, 2023. However, due to the rapid arrival of rain, the race spanned just slightly over an hour in duration. Stewart-Haas Racing driver Cole Custer pilots the #00 Ford Mustang, securing pole position during the qualifying session. As the green flag dropped for NASCAR’s inaugural Xfinity Series street course race, Custer led the rest of the drivers throughout all 25 laps of the street race course.

With the continuous rainfall, NASCAR officials ultimately made the decision to call off the race, despite not reaching the halfway point yet. As a result, Cole Custer, representing Stewart-Haas Racing, was named the winner based on the standings at the time the race was called off. This achievement marked Custer’s second win of the season and his 12th career victory in the Xfinity Series.


NASCAR Cup Series

With the NASCAR Cup Series race initially scheduled to kick off on July 2, 2023 at 4 PM, the much-awaited street course race encountered heavy rain and track flooding. There were alerts issued for flooding across the city and in response, NASCAR officials made the decision to postpone the time of the race start.


Unfortunately, the lingering impact of the weather’s unpredictability pushed back the race’s actual start time to 5:30 PM. Despite the race delays, the excitement from witnessing history only intensified, setting the start of the race.


As the start of the NASCAR Cup Series first street course race unfolded, the wet streets took a turn, leading to a massive traffic jam in the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Jackson Drive at turn 11. As the drivers navigated through the street course race, a series of mistakes led to the huge pileup at turn 11, drivers losing control of their cars, making mistakes, and colliding with the track barriers. As drivers attempted to get themselves out of the pileup, efforts that were made accidentally closed off the escape path, enhancing the situation. Along with the rising tension, the race came to a temporary halt as spectators watched on, hoping for a swift resolution.


Joe Gibbs Racing driver, Christopher Bell took charge and demonstrated his skills by leading the grid throughout the majority of the NASCAR Cup Series’ inaugural street course race. As the race progressed and reached the 47-lap mark, NASCAR officials recognized the flooding alerts across the city and challenging track conditions. With safety as the utmost priority, they informed all the teams that the race would be shortened from 100 laps to 75 laps. Despite being victorious in Stages 1 and 2, Bell’s early dominance faced a sudden twist, eventually spinning out and letting go of his lead position with only six laps to go. As drivers begin to take over, this unexpected occurrence opened the window for another notable driver to seize the moment and claim victory.


The Trackhouse Racing driver Shane van Gisbergen secured a remarkable victory on his historic debut in the NASCAR Cup Series, only the seventh in series history to do so. This extraordinary achievement highlights van Gisbergen’s abilities, who overcame the challenges of the unknown street course race and transitioned swiftly through the horrendous weather conditions.

Credit - Chris Graythen/Getty Images

NASCAR's 75th anniversary race weekend culminated in an unforgettable making of the sport’s history. For the NASCAR Cup Series’ first time ever in downtown Chicago, this street course race will be remembered for generations to come.


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