The first ever NASCAR Chicago Street Race is a winner all around

NBC, NASCAR, City of Chicago benefit despite near-rainout

[Editor’s note: This post will be updated as more ratings data comes in.]

Despite the constant complaining from numerous residents and local media types, the first-ever NASCAR Chicago Street Race was a smash hit with not only viewers but also fans who attended the race. 

The NASCAR race was indeed a boon for the city despite the inconvenience and all the closed streets downtown, including parts of DuSable Lake Shore Drive. The races on Saturday and Sunday showed the city off beautifully, especially from the cameras inside the cars. 

But not everything went off as planned. The Chicago area was hit with constant rains over the weekend, with the In The Loop 121 races being halted Saturday because of lightning and delayed and eventually called off Sunday due to rains (Cole Custer was declared the winner.) The fan festival scheduled for the weekend was also canceled because of the weather.

There were questions if the Grant Park 220 race would take place Sunday as rains continued to swamp the area, with seven or more inches reported in some places with flooding reported on the Eisenhower and Stevenson expressways. But the rains stopped, and after an hour delay, the race took place. 

There were some odd, but exciting moments including several cars crashing into tire barriers and near seventeen-car pileup at one of the turns. After the race was cut from 100 to 75 laps due to approaching darkness, Justin Haley and Shane van Gisbergen were neck-to-neck near the end, but it was van Gisbergen who came out the winner, notching the New Zelander’s first win in his first Cup race – marking the first time since 1963 that happened. 

The NASCAR Chicago Race was well received by viewers, too. The contest averaged 4.63 million linear TV viewers Sunday night, easily beating its competition (though keep in mind, it is a summer Sunday.) The race includes those who streamed the race on Peacock, who added 164,000 viewers for a grand total of nearly 4.8 million. It was the most watched race for NBC since 2017’s Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis and for NASCAR in general, the most-watched since February’s Daytona 500. Viewership peaked at 5.38 million between 8:15-8:30 p.m. Central Time when van Gisbergen took the flag.

Not surprisingly, Chicago led all markets with a 9.3 household overnight rating for NBC 5. However, some markets lost the race as Nexstar pulled the plug on their signal for DirecTV subscribers in cities where they own the local NBC affiliate as part of a bigger retransmission consent dispute between the two. Among the 38 NBC affiliates affected were in markets where NASCAR is quite popular – WFLA Tampa; WAVY Norfolk-Portsmouth, Va.; KARK Little Rock, Ark.; KTAL Texarkana-Shreveport; KXAN Austin, Tex; and WSAV Savannah, Ga., among others.

While all of this should point to a second year of the NASCAR Chicago Street Race, there are some aldermen who say otherwise despite the success – and a three-year contract the city signed. So while a second edition is in question, at least the inaugural race did leave a great impression. 


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