Trading a road course for a street course doesn’t solve NASCAR’s most pressing problem

The clock is ticking toward mid-August, when NASCAR is due to release its 2023 Cup Series schedule. It’s increasingly likely the announcement will include plans for a race at a Chicago street circuit.

While that’s the kind of innovative move NASCAR has made in recent years, it doesn’t solve NASCAR’s most pressing problem. It needs a younger audience that will stick around for decades.

NASCAR prepares for a street course in Chicago

Daniel Suarez and Tyler Reddick drive through Turn 4 during the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 on May 29, 2022 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. | Jeffrey Jacket/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Sports Business Journal has reported twice since late February that NASCAR is moving forward with a street race in Chicago for next season’s schedule. Sports officials reportedly spoke with Mayor Lori Lightfoot about logistics.

Over the past two years, NASCAR has added a slew of road courses and the Bristol dirt race to its schedule and moved its Busch Light Clash exhibit to a bespoke oval inside the Los Angeles Coliseum. The goal has been to create a perception for fans that NASCAR is bold and innovative.

This time, the officials are trying to make a good impression on the leaders of the network. NASCAR’s television contracts are in effect at the end of 2024, and the nation’s premier racing series knows it must continue to evolve ahead of negotiations. Fox’s 6% increase in viewership this season was nice, but the sport needs more.

The last expected twist took several months to prepare. Last year, NASCAR added a Chicago street course to its iRacing schedule, carving out a realistic 2.2-mile loop adjacent to Soldier Field. Sports Business Journal reported that the designers meticulously scanned actual streets to add detail to the game. This has the added benefit of delineating TV camera locations and mapping out the layout of the stands and spectator viewing.

NASCAR must attract a younger audience

NASCAR can solve a problem by killing off its All-Star race, which has become a dull affair, or at least moving it out of Texas Motor Speedway. Chicago could replace it without costing any other current track its race date. On the other hand, losing one of the road courses would not be a bad idea.

More road courses and the Los Angeles Coliseum may have attracted new young fans, but the ratings show NASCAR isn’t reaching demographics as effectively as Formula 1 has in recent seasons. Observers point out Formula 1: drive to survive on Netflix as key to renewed interest in F1.

However, part of F1’s gain has been in international markets. NASCAR is resolutely American and must win in all 50 states. Sunday playoff races go head-to-head with the start of the NFL season, and the 400 miles on the schedule can turn into marathon viewing with warnings and red flags.

Although NBC doesn’t care about Sunday races because it doesn’t have an NFL day pass, NASCAR misses the young audience that watches football on Fox and CBS.

So adding a street course to Chicago really doesn’t solve its biggest challenge.

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