Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Saturday Chicago Street Race Notebook

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

CHICAGO – All of the preliminaries are complete, it’s time to go racing.

Kyle Larson completed a clean sweep of both practice and qualifying on Saturday in preparation for Sunday’s running of the NASCAR Chicago Street Race.

Prior to the green flag dropping on Sunday afternoon for the NASCAR Cup Series to take over the streets of the Windy City, here are some of the storylines of the weekend.

Study Time

A year after Shane van Gisbergen shocked the NASCAR world by winning the inaugural Chicago Street Course in his first start, drivers and teams come into the 2024 running of this race with much more knowledge in their arsenal to try and take down the reigning street course king.

Of course, it’s his title to come and take, but having a year to study their opponent will only make for a much more competitive race on Sunday.

“We hope that we’re closer to him, but you just don’t know,” Larson said. “So, I would imagine we would be a little bit closer. I think car setups are probably a little bit more optimized. I think drivers are gonna be more optimized. So, I think, it’d be a little bit tougher, but he’s also, I would assume gonna be better than he was last year as well.

“We’ll see. I think we all look forward to the challenge of trying to compete with a guy that’s that good and has the experience that he has. For me, I get two opportunities with that. So, I’m looking forward to that, hopefully learning throughout today. But we’ll see.

“I feel like with him, like we can, some of us can go as fast as him, but his racecraft is just way better than ours. I mean, last year, like he was making passes that I have never seen before. You know, that pass for lead, the passes into Turn 2 and making it look really easy. He sees things different than us and he’s able to execute it better than us because he’s really experienced. When you can race with a guy like that, it just elevates it, so it’s cool.”

Larson struck the first blow of the weekend, with his speed in both practice and qualifying, explaining that with the plethora of data available to the teams in the Cup Series, they have been able to do dissect last year’s race to improve on their weaknesses coming into 2024.

Thus far, it appears to be paying off.

“We’ve all studied some SMT,” Larson said. “But I didn’t spend like hours, you know, no different really than normal. I just kind of briefly look at SMT compared myself and usually it’s just whatever the team clips for me.

“I just kinda looked at a little bit of that. It’s really hard to study last year stuff ’cause the track wasn’t like this, you know, as far as you know. There were still damp spots and things like that last year in the race, so hard to fully study, but there was definitely some things worth looking at.”

Likewise for other drivers, whether they’re already proficient on the road courses or had some work to do to up their game.

Michael McDowell, for example, has won on road courses in the Cup Series before and always seems to be in the mix, but having a notebook to fall back on this time around in Chicago has been helpful for his No. 34 team

“You watch film, you watch data, you use all the tools that you have and all the resources you have to make decisions on how you’re gonna drive, how you’re gonna set up the car, who did what well,” McDowell said of studying all of the data available in preparation for the weekend. “You cipher through a lot of videos, a lot of photos, a lot of in car and try to figure out what’s the best approach.”

Bubba Wallace has never considered himself the best road course racer, but on Saturday, he showed some potential with his run in qualifying.

Asked about what he has used to learn the most since this race last year, Wallace noted that it is a combination of the muscle memory having run on this course before, along with being able to study data and film from last season.

“Trusting in the sim, watching film, you know, I was hyperfocused on practice for the one and a half laps they would get before every red flag for Xfinity,” Wallace said. But just trying to pick up on little things. Where the braking markers are. I mean, that’s where people get in trouble is just overshooting the corner a little bit. So just creeping into it, but also not just being slow the whole weekend. You gotta get there at some point.”

Flying Under the Radar

Following the 2023 running of the Chicago Street Race, Shane van Gisbergen got all of the accolades that come with winning the race, but for a good majority of that race, it seemed to be Christopher Bell’s race to lose.

Bell swept the first two stages and if it wasn’t for a strategy call gone awry when pending darkness forced NASCAR to shorten the race length, it may very well have been Bell celebrating in Victory Lane instead of SVG.

He explained that it will be a whole new ballgame on Sunday with the expected dry conditions, where he excelled last season, which he hopes will be the ticket for him on Sunday.

“Certainly nothing will apply from the race to the race that we have this weekend because of the, the conditions being different,” said Bell. “But, you know, last year I had a great practice and a great qualifying session and I was disappointed that it rained because I felt like I had a great shot at it if it was dry.

“With that being said, it’s a new race and it all starts today. I think qualifying is gonna be really important to showcase who’s gonna be the favorites going into tomorrow.”

Chicago or Bust?

It’s getting down to crunch time in the Cup Series with the start of the Playoffs growing ever nearer and a number of drivers still needing to punch their ticket for the postseason.

One of those being Michael McDowell, the road course ace who made the Playoffs in 2023 after winning on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.

With the variety of tracks still remaining in the regular season, drivers are circling the races they expect to be their best bet to win a race and make it in. For McDowell, one of those is Sunday’s race at Chicago.

Coming off a seventh-place finish in this race one year ago and a third-place qualifying effort, McDowell is one of the drivers that is expected to be in the mix.

He explained that it’s not a must-win for his No. 34 Front Row Motorsports team this weekend, but they will definitely be taking a shot at it. After all, who knows how the rest of the regular season will play out.

“There’s other opportunities, but it’s high pressure every weekend to make it,” McDowell said. “I don’t think we’re locked into just a have to win here in order to have a shot at it, but we know this is a better shot than most, so you gotta make the most of it.”

NASCAR Goes Electric

In the ever-changing climate of the automotive industry, the thought of NASCAR eventually dipping its toes into the electric vehicle market has always persisted in the back of everyone’s minds and on Saturday in Chicago, the first steps were taken toward making it a reality.

NASCAR officials, along with representatives from all three manufacturers and ABB, unveiled a prototype EV, which is just that – a prototype. It was stressed that there are no plans to race the car or create a series, but it does open the door for the future.

The car, which doesn’t feature any particular manufacturer features and a Car of Tomorrow-esque wing on the back, was derived from the Next Gen car and in place of the internal combustion powertrain that is present in the current Cup Series car is a electric motor capable of 1000 kilowatts of power, equaling over 1300 horsepower.


In addition, the partnership will be another step in NASCAR’s plan to become carbon neutral over the next decade, with a goal of net zero operating emissions by 2035.

“We at NASCAR recognize that we have to be in a position to be ready for the future, whatever that holds,” said John Probst, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Development. “And this Next Gen car that you’ll see racing here this weekend is a good example of that.

“Four or five years ago when we sat down and started to develop that car and kind of put the skeleton together, that became the race car that’ll race out here today. The key tenets for that for us was it’s gotta be relevant to our OEM partners and what the future holds.

“Electrification, there’s other things that we’re exploring as well, but certainly electrification is a huge part of that, that we want to use this car to demonstrate that, but to also educate ourselves. And there’s no better way for NASCAR to educate ourselves on what the future holds than to partner with companies like ABB and work with our existing partners and just surround ourself with the absolute best around the world to figure out what does that hold and where.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.