NASCAR Chicago Street Race’s fate unknown for 2025

Alex Borman (48) winner of the NASCAR Cup Chicago Street Race, rides through Congress Plaza.

Declining attendance, mixed audience numbers, and less TV exposure could spell doom for event

[Editor’s note: This post was updated on July 12 with updated ratings information.]

The Chicago Street Race (The Loop 110 and The Grant Park 165) sped through its second edition this past weekend through downtown and DuSable Lake Shore Drive. But it seems the bloom is off the rose from the inaugural race, from virtually every standpoint as for the second year in a row, rain affected the Sunday portion of the event.

According to Nielsen, ratings for the NASCAR Cup portion of the race Sunday were down 18 percent in total viewership, attracting 3.87 million viewers, as opposed to 4.6 million last year, which took place on July 2, before the 4th of July holiday. Viewership peaked at 4.3 million before the clouds opened up and delayed the event for 90 minutes before resuming. Household ratings showed Sunday’s Street Race drew a 2.1 rating, down from a 2.5 in 2023.

In Chicago, the NASCAR Cup race Sunday drew a 5.1 household local overnight rating for NBC 5 (WMAQ-TV), down 45 percent from the 9.3 rating last year’s race earned. Chicago however, finished only behind Charlotte’s WCNC (5.2) for the highest-rated market. 

Last year, the start of the race was delayed a few hours after nearly eight inches of rain fell in the Chicago area that day, flooding areas around the city and suburbs. Despite a rainstorm not of historic proportions, it was still enough for a delay, and for the second year in a row, a “sundown” time clock was put in place to mark a conclusion to the race. 

But the ratings news wasn’t all negative. The Street Race scored NBC’s highest NASCAR numbers this season and ranked sixth behind five other NASCAR races, all aired on Fox. And Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Cup series – held in picture-perfect conditions downtown, drew 1.75 million viewers, on NBC, up from last year’s race on USA Network, despite the frequent starts and stops due to crashes. And keep in mind all of NBC’s races this year were also affected by rain.

Saturday’s Loop 110 Xfinity Cup series race took place under better conditions.

Alex Bowman won the Grant Park 165, as last year’s champ Shane van Gisbergen was knocked out early. However, he did win the The Loop 110 race on Saturday. 

After two years, the Chicago Street Race faces a questionable future. The Chicago Tribune reported attendance was down for the weekend event (including some empty seats shown from aerial views on TV), while the Sun-Times reported the fan festival – washed away last year due to the inclement weather, was sparsely attended. Even though the race has a three-year contract, both sides can opt out – but downtown residents have yet to warm up to the event, complaining about the closures and the noise from the event. Critics also point out that the race is a drain on the city’s resources, especially when it comes to public safety as the Fourth Of July weekend was the most violent in the city in recent memory. 

Some suggested the race should be moved to another date, and to start earlier in the afternoon. It will be up to Mayor Brandon Johnson – who is already under fire for how he’s running the city – to decide, and it won’t be easy. But given he supports the event, it has a good chance of returning. 

If the race does return for a third year, one thing is certain – it won’t air on NBC. Because of NASCAR’s new seven-year, $7.7 billion television deal taking effect in 2025, NBC’s portion is moving to later in the season (likely starting in August or September) meaning if the city keeps the race in early July, the event will likely wind up on either TNT or streamer Amazon Prime with each holding rights to five races while Fox and NBC have fourteen each – with the majority airing on either cable (FS1, USA) or streaming (Peacock).

For example, the Coca-Cola 600 – a Memorial Day Eve staple for Fox, is moving to Amazon Prime next season. A reduced over-the-air presence in the upcoming deal is bad news for the city as those nice aerial shots showcasing Chicago to the world aren’t as effective on cable or a streamer.

If there’s any consolation, next year’s Xfinity races will move to The CW. If the street races return next year, the Xfinity Cup will air locally on Nexstar’s WGN-TV, which returns to the CW fold on August 31 after eight years away. 

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