Third time's a charm? How Chicago fits into NASCAR's 2025 schedule plans (2024)

NASCAR Cup Series

Published Jul. 8, 2024 1:30 p.m. ET

Bob Pockrass FOX NASCAR Insider

CHICAGO — After a yearlong wait for a chance to have a dry race on the streets of Chicago, NASCAR officials will have to wait another year.

A second annual rain-impacted race once again couldn't totally ruin a weekend but certainly frustrated organizers who could feel a great vibe in Grant Park as NASCAR fans mixed in with curious locals during NASCAR's lone attempt at a music festival combined with racing.

The three-year contract can be ended by the city or NASCAR six months prior to the race, with the 2025 edition scheduled for July 5-6 on a 2.2-mile course that includes famed streets Columbus Drive, Michigan Avenue and DuSable Lake Shore Drive.

So even though there's a contract, questions will remain on whether NASCAR disrupting life for a few weeks for a major sporting event and festival is worth it — for both NASCAR and the city.

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"NASCAR is ... good for our local businesses, especially our hospitality industry, which of course is being supported by the fans and all those visiting our amazing city," Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson said in addressing the drivers before the event.

Johnson's support is key to whether the race continues. He said he was "thrilled to be here to watch and cheer all of you on" and joked with the drivers.

"Know that all the challenges and twists you experience downtown, you're not the only ones who experience those challenges and twists — try being the mayor of the City of Chicago," Johnson said. "And try to do it without crashing. ... Don't tear my city up."

The challenges of putting a race on streets that are major arteries is not an easy task, and NASCAR knocked six days off the track construction and disassembling timeline. The festival featured concerts by The Black Keys, The Chainsmokers and Keith Urban — all of which went on as scheduled.

But then the rains came just as the Cup race was about to start. It wasn't the record rain of the year prior but enough that NASCAR had to delay the beginning of the race — NASCAR also had to deal with a couple of protestors (not protesting the race) who had climbed a fence — and then saw rain interrupt the event for 103 minutes.

NASCAR got 58 of its scheduled 75 laps in before darkness as NASCAR set 8:20 p.m. CT as its "two-laps-to-go" time for the end of the race.

Just like last year, before the rains came, the buzz around the course seemed positive, probably more so this year as those who live or work downtown knew more of what to expect.

"It'sa great way ... to not only show that we're capable of racing in locations like this and right in the center of a major metropolitan city, which is an important part of the market and the exposure, but it's also opening up the door to a lot of new fans," said four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon, a Hendrick Motorsports executive.

"I not only hope we can continue to come back here, I hope we can try to experiment with this in other places, too."

NASCAR might only have one street race in its budget — NASCAR doesn't release financials but the event is not believed to be a money-maker — but it still wants to experiment with its schedule.

It's no secret that NASCAR would like to race in Mexico and Canada, possibly at the tracks in Mexico City and Montreal where Formula 1 races. And it seemed a couple of months ago that Mexico City was all but done as far as the 2025 Cup schedule.

That schedule was expected to be released as early as late May, but it's now early July and no 2025 schedule has been released — and few would be surprised if it takes another 2-4 weeks (or even longer) before it's released. Whether an international race happens is likely one of the elements NASCAR has to finish before announcing its 2025 slate.

As reported by The Athletic, three tracks are expected to move out of the playoffs. Atlanta already has announced a move from September back to the summer as part of NASCAR's new in-season tournament. Homestead-Miami Speedway, which is making a run at the 2026 championship race, could move to the spring. And Watkins Glen, with its reliance on camping, might see its September race return to August after a one-year playoff experiment.

NASCAR Cup Series: Grant Park 165 highlights

Darlington would be expected to return as the playoff opener as it keeps its traditional Labor Day date. Potential tracks added to the playoffs include New Hampshire and Gateway.

As far as Chicago, there's no reason to think that NASCAR doesn't want to return. And while some might argue that summer rain should be expected for an early July date, the idea of doing it around July 4 is that closing roads that week will be less impactful as fewer people will work downtown.

The 2024 Chicago weekend showed that it isn't just to expose a sport to people who wouldn't normally watch.

NASCAR and Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver who races full time in the Cup Series, held a free event at a local park for the second consecutive year with Chicago hip-hop artist Twista as the headliner. They once again gave ticket vouchers to those who attended so they could get a general admission ticket to the race.

But NASCAR also used the Chicago race to show off something new in a market that it believed would be maybe more accepting than a traditional NASCAR venue — NASCAR unveiled its electronic vehicle prototype during the weekend.

That's probably not something NASCAR is going to do at Talladega, as the idea of an electric series — which NASCAR hasn't committed to but felt it had to start development and research in case its manufacturers wanted it to switch — is certainly polarizing with fans.

NASCAR also introduced all the drivers prior to The Chainsmokers concert. Drivers already seemed to have their "game face" on for the most part but it still hoped that those in attendance would at least recognize their names.

And then there were some locally inspired paint schemes — Michael McDowell carried the Chicago White Sox logo and Tyler Reddick carried the logo of the Jordan Brand in the city where his co-owner Michael Jordan is one of its biggest icons.

Those schemes helped create an atmosphere of a big event in the big city.

And now the Cup Series heads to ... Pocono Raceway. From the city streets to a 2.5-mile track nestled in the mountains of Pennsylvania.

Some might consider Chicago and the Poconos as two ends of the earth.

"I enjoy things about both," said former Cup champion Brad Keselowski. "I love being in Pocono and particularly going down that backstretch or even on the frontstretch, and like seeing the sky and feeling like the world is huge and it's just like the biggest sky you've ever seen in your life.

"And then you come here and it's the exact opposite. I enjoy being here and seeing the vibrance of all the people in the buildings and feeling part of a really tight and small community. I appreciate both of those things. I think it's kind of awesome that we're doing that back to back."

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.

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