Rain causes late start, early finish at final day of NASCAR in Chicago

By Leah Love, News Editor

Several hours of heavy rain threatened to upend the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race through the wet streets of Chicago on Sunday, July 2 after race officials decided not to continue the halted XFinity Series race from the day before. Cole Custer was declared the winner of The Loop 121 NASCAR Xfinity Series.

The Grant Park 220 – the main race on 2.2 miles of city streets, with 12 turns, started over an hour late — it also was shortened as it grew dark. But that race, too, ultimately concluded with a winner after 75 of 100 laps through the South Loop. Shane van Gisbergen, Supercars champion from New Zealand, won his first victory in his NASCAR Cup Series debut.

Uncertainty about the races plagued the wet weekend. As the scheduled 4 p.m. start time approached, torrential rain continued, flooding much of the festival grounds and leaving grassy areas of the park muddy underfoot. 

Still, fans waited out eagerly, sporting rain ponchos and seeking shelter under trees and under the driver’s tunnel, which led from the open air seats to the track. 

During driver introductions, racers walked onto the stage greeted by sparse but enthusiastic cheers as it continued to pour. 

Typically, driver introductions are soon followed by the race. But when the planned start time of 4 p.m. arrived, officials announced a holding pattern as rain water flooded Pit Road, where crews were working to apply the cars’ rain tires. 

Fans sloshed through several inches of water along the track, trying to stake a claim on a good view while waiting to hear when the race would start. 

Teenage NASCAR enthusiast Miguel Calvillo and his grandfather, Robert Alcala, expected the rain to move the race to Monday, but Calvillo remained excited to see his favorite driver, Kevin Harvick, take to the track in a “wild” race. 

Though he has attended several NASCAR races at venues across the country, Calvillo said the historic Chicago street race has been “better than all the other races combined.”  

Watching the drivers line up from their trackside vantage point, Calvillo, Alcala and their family were particularly happy to spot Daniel Suárez — the first Mexican-born driver to win a Cup Series race — approach his car. Alcala credits Suárez with getting the rest of his family into NASCAR, and hopes that a rise in representation on the racetrack will lead to a more diverse fanbase. “We’d like to have everybody, you know?” said Alcala. “Boys, girls, black, white, Hispanic –  everybody together, let’s just enjoy a good race and have fun.”

When the weather broke about 45 minutes after the scheduled start time, spectators flocked to the race grounds.

One couple waited all day for the rain to let up so the race could begin, attending their local farmer’s market, then going to the nearby Art Institute of Chicago to kill time. Ultimately, though they had different levels of knowledge about motorsports – one a mechanic with a love for all things fast, one just a fan of the Pixar movie “Cars” – both enjoyed the growl of the engines and a cold beer.