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Chicago Welcomes NASCAR.....Maybe

Chicagoland Speedway: Remember last summer's spooky weather? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   JOLIET, Ill.
   Welcome to Chicago, Joey.
   Have some pizza. Check out the waterfront, and the dinosaurs at the Field. 'Opa!' some flaming saganaki cheese in Greektown.
   Then hike out to this track.
   And it is a hike.
   This 1-1/2-mile track, at the end of the Chicago metro line, is a strange creature. It's virtually a carbon-copy of Kansas Speedway, but unlike the Kansas, this place is really far out in the cornfields, a good hour, on jammed expressways, from the heart of Chicago.
   Then NASCAR switched the 400-miler from Sunday afternoon to Saturday night, for some odd reason.
   Where this race really ought to be run is up and down Lake Shore Drive, sort of a Watkins Glen in the Windy City.
   And with only one yearly NASCAR stop here, it's unclear if this speedway is really working, as a marketing game for this sport.
    Curiously perhaps, Daytona winner Tony Stewart and buddies Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be marketing down in Indianapolis, at the Speedway, for the July 26th Brickyard 400, which was such a disaster last summer.
   In fact Dan Wheldon, the 2005 Indy 500 winner, will take Earnhardt for a ride around the Indy track Thursday. (And why not Danica Patrick, pray tell?)
   Meanwhile up here NASCAR's newest star, 19-year-old Joey Logano, winner at Loudon, N.H., just two weeks ago, is facing yet another brand new track this week – Chicagoland, out here a few miles off the Miracle Mile and Lakeshore Drive.   
  "Chicago is a brand new game for me, because this will be my first race here," Logano says. "We've had a lot of success on the intermediate tracks this year, so I know the car will be fast. 
   "I'm sure the track has its own characteristics that make it unique, and I'll need to figure those out during practice.  During times like these I can rely on my teammates, which is cool.  They can let me know what to expect."
   What to expect is a strong run by Jeff Gordon: "I feel our intermediate track program has really turned a corner this year," Gordon says, referring to his win at Texas, seconds at California, Atlanta and Michigan, sixth at Las Vegas and 14th at rain-shortened Charlotte.
   What not to expect is a win by Carl Edwards, though he could surprise. Of all the mid-sized tracks on the NASCAR tour, this is his worst.
   "But we are coming off of solid race at Daytona, where my guys did a great job, and I think we have the potential to do really well this weekend," Edwards says. "Last year we were running away with the race and we had a little trouble -- The splitter (front bumper) broke, and we ended up falling back.
    "We run really well at Chicago, and I feel like there's a good chance for us to get our first win of the season there."
    However out of the six 1-1/2-mile tracks on the circuit, Edwards' average finish here is only 23.5. That compares to Atlanta (10.7), Charlotte (10), Kansas (14), Las Vegas (12.8) and Texas (13.4). Only at Talladega does Edwards typically have worse luck than here.
    But then streaks are made to be broken.
   At least that what Jeff Burton hopes too: "Chicago is the kind of track that we have struggled on…and it's the kind of place that has needed the most attention.
    "We feel really good about what we have done to prepare for this weekend's race, and the 1-1/2-miles in general…because what we have been doing hasn't been working.
   "We're taking a different approach. And what we're doing now seems to make sense. So we're going to Chicago with something different and, hopefully, it will work."
    The season's half-over, after 18 of the 36 races, and hey, take a look at the Sprint Cup standings: a big surprise is Marcos Ambrose. The Aussie, running his first full season on the tour, comes to Chicago an impressive 18th in the points…and just 218 points out of the 12th-place playoff cut, with eight races remaining in the run to the chase.
   "We're really not focused on it," Ambrose insists of the championship playoffs, "but at the same time it's in the back of all of our minds.
   "If we have some great runs, you never know….
    "We are still in some contention.
   "We don't expect to be in the top-12 (at the September cut), but at the same time we don't want to blow any opportunities that come our way."

Kyle Busch celebrating last summer's Chicago win (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Uhhh, Mike, Wheldon and

Uhhh, Mike, Wheldon and Earnhardt share a common sponsor - the National Guard.

well, yes....but the deal is

well, yes....but the deal is we're in chicago...and why aren't they promoting the race in chicago....and, i'm sorry, wheldon is a great driver, but why can't we promote the sport.....isn't danica -- love her or hate her - the big deal indy deal right now? this is about promoting the sport, and i dont' see these guys promoting the sport. what am i missing?
but thanks for paying attention to my rambling...keep me on my toes...

No matter how bad the racing

No matter how bad the racing is here, there is no way NASCAR is going to vacate the 3rd largest US media market. They screwed Ganassi by going in cahoots and building their own track when Chip's was already there. So long as the fans show up to see racing at the cookie-cutter tracks, NASCAR will keep going to them.

Sidenote: The first 398 laps were a snoozer last year, but Busch's dynomite pass to get by Johnson on the outside with 2 to go made up for it.

Media Markets Overrated

Media markets tend to get overrated. NASCAR didn't grow with major media markets.

Chicagoland is making no discernable impact on that market anymore than Fontana is or Ontario did in southern California. The worst part of it is this track usually sees the most competitive IRL racing of the year, and it's racing that rivals Talladega for competitive ferocity. The NASCAR boys can't put on a memorable race here; the IRL guys put on bang-up races.

Chicago Not Working

Chicago is not a racing demographic and showed such with its rejection of Ganassi's track in 2000. This track would work if it were 2.5 miles and were in an actual racing demographic like Oklahoma, which is dotted with some twenty dirt tracks, six or more drag strips, and even a road course (Hallett Motor Racing Circuit).

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