So, as John Oliver usually begins his HBO show, let’s begin with a quick recap of the week. Or weeks. Because there has been a lot going on in the sport that has little to do with the actual on-track racing. That does not mean that the racing has been disappointing but rather that there has been so much going on surrounding the sport that the racing is somewhat of an afterthought.
Before going further, it is important to acknowledge that the racing this season has been buoyed by the new car and how it races on many different circuits. The big letdown to this point has been how lackluster the race at Martinsville unfolded, devoid of drama and featuring the rare occurrence when the leader could drive away on a short-track.
That being noted, the news surrounding the sport for the past couple of weeks has been a fascinating hodge-podge of desires, outcomes, and challenges. For starters, NASCAR announced that in its desire to explore new opportunities the sport would hold a Cup race on the streets of Chicago in 2023. This move is stunning for a number of reasons. That the series held decent races on the oval track in Joliet, Illinois prior to the pandemic scrambling the schedule seems to be of little concern as the track is now mothballed and certainly awaiting re-development to become some kind of nightmare strip-mall-housing-complex-office-laden ode to the overdevelopment gods of neoliberal capitalism.
Somehow Chicago is pulling off what NASCAR had wanted to do in New York for the past two decades. The sport had long focused on attempting to put on a race in the metro NY area yet never found a way to pull the right strings to make it happen. But, perhaps encouraged by the foray into the Los Angeles market by running a race at the Los Angeles Coliseum, NASCAR management recognized an alternate way to be splashy and race in an unexpected arena. The Chicago street course is nothing but if not that.
Yet in conjunction with the yearning to explore new racing opportunities, the sport is also flexing on its sense of power. For years, NASCAR has looked ineffectual in how it has policed the sport––a governing body that appears more whimsical than it does logical; one bent on arbitrary decisions rather than one upholding the rules and sending a consistent message. If anything, the recent week has illustrated a change in this mentality.
What had once been a shrugging of the shoulders has become a more stringent policing effort. The…