NASCAR Chicago Notebook: Ross Chastain Looking For Balance In First Street Course Event

Ross Chastain (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

CHICAGO—The grand scale of Chicago is a far cry from bucolic Alva, Florida, but Ross Chastain is embracing his racing experience in The Windy City. 

Invigorated by his victory last Sunday at Nashville Superspeedway, Chastain comes to Chicago with a confident mindset balanced by a total lack of experience on a street course. The driver of the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet knows he must temper his aggressive tendencies in Sunday’s Grant Park 220 (5 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). 

Chastain glibly admitted he had crashed in all 12 corners of the Chicago Street Course when he ran computer simulations of the track. In the simulator, there is no price to pay for a wreck. On the real pavement, the penalty can be catastrophic.   

“There’s no runoff,” Chastain said Friday. “There’s no room for error. Virtually, you can go and prepare and still attack and crash on our simulators, but when you get in the car, it’s going to all close in, and that’s what they keep saying. So I’m just taking the approach that I know it’s going to feel terrible in terms of wall proximity, because I know the penalty in practice and qualifying and in the race is really big.

“The moment I break traction, I’m not going to wonder if I’m going to hit the wall for very long, because the wall is right there. The biggest thing is just mentally trying to balance aggression for lap time and the penalty of overstepping that aggression and hitting the wall. That’s really been my focus all week.” 

Formula 1 champ Jenson Button already has scouted passing zones–virtually 

Jenson Button is hardly a stranger to street courses. The 2009 Formula 1 champion has raced all over the world. In fact, his last event in F1 was the 2017 Grand Prix of Monaco on a wickedly narrow course through the principality in the south of France. 

Despite his experience, Button is far from jaded. The 43-year-old is clearly enthusiastic about the prospect of racing a NASCAR Next Gen Cup Series car through the streets of Chicago in Sunday’s Grant Park 220 (5 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). 

“It’s so cool,” said Button, who is driving the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford. “Racing within a city—there aren’t many racing drivers that get the opportunity. I’ve had the opportunity in Monaco, in Singapore, but not in a stock car. So this is a new, exciting opportunity for me.  

“I think the racing is going to be out-of-this-world exciting. We also have a bit of weather thrown into the weekend—the possibility of rain and thunderstorms. That always mixes things up. Looking forward to the action, and a big thank you to (sponsor) Mobil 1 for making this dream happen for me, to race street races in Cup this year.” 

When Button took questions from reporters in the Chicago Street Course media center on Friday afternoon, he had yet to walk the 2.2-mile, 12-turn circuit. But he had done considerable analysis based on simulations and gave his synopsis of possible passing zones. 

“I think Turn 1, Turn 2, Turn 5 and the last corner (Turn 12) are the main overtaking places,” Button said. “Other sections of the track are too narrow, like Turn 9, that long left-hander. That’s a narrow section, but it has its own challenges, first of all trying to keep the car out of the wall, but trying to thread the needle through that section.  

“It’s going to feel extremely quick. The speeds won’t be extremely high, but when the barriers are that close, it feels unbelievably fast, and it feels like they’re narrowing on you throughout the race.” 

Spotters face a unique challenge at Chicago Street Course 

The 2.2-mile, 12-turn Chicago Street course will require three spotters to help drivers navigate the circuit.  

The primary location will be atop the President’s Paddock Club looking toward Turn 1. From that point, spotters also will be able to view Turn 2 and Turn 6, the latter of which is in close proximity to Turn 1 at the heart of the course. 

Additional spotters will take their positions atop large tourist buses in Turn 4 and at the Charlotte Symphony Center, which overlooks Turns 7 through 11. 

Chicago Street Race president Julie Giese noted that a huge number of concrete barriers had been trucked into the city to define the margins of the circuit. Each barrier weighs 10,000 pounds, limiting the cargo to eight per truck. 

The first barriers were placed on June 17 on Jackson Street. 

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