Chicagoland Speedway has one more race in the playoffs before it goes back to its roots next year.
This Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400 is the opener of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 10-race playoffs. Next summer, the Joliet track will host its race on July 1, ending Chicagoland Speedway’s fall run.
But this move back to the summer isn’t a negative for the track. It’s something Chicagoland Speedway, which hosted a July race from 2001-2010, didn’t ask for but welcomed when the 2018 schedule was announced in May.
“When we moved to September, part of the reason for that move was NASCAR wanted to give the start of the playoffs a big platform and a big stage. And what better market to do that than one like Chicago, and we were thrilled to have that position for the past seven years,” Chicagoland Speedway president Scott Paddock said. “But a lot of our fans, quite frankly, lobbied and were pretty vocal about wanting that return to the summer time.”
The reasons Paddock listed make sense. Unlike Sunday when the Bears, Cubs and White Sox are in action, the Blackhawks are in training camp and there’s even a PGA Tour event to divert people’s attention, the calendar is more barren in July when NASCAR will return to the Chicago area next year.
“There’s no conflicts with school. There’s no conflicts with the NFL. People are looking for things to do with their family in the summer time,” Paddock said. “We’re very fortunate. If we’re going to move, this is the position we would move to.”
Not only does moving to July give the race a chance to attract more local eyeballs, it doesn’t take any national exposure from Chicagoland Speedway. The 2018 event is the first of the year on NBC, meaning the network will use the Chicagoland race in much of its promotional material.
“What that means is, they’re going to now pre-promote our event on the Olympics, on the Triple Crown, the Stanley Cup hockey,” said Paddock, who estimated the shift to the summer will mean one million more television viewers. “All of their marquee programming, they’re going to be touting ‘NASCAR returns to NBC at Chicagoland Speedway.’ That’s huge for us, so that promotional platform combined with the fact that we’re listening to our fans and moving back to a much less crowded time of the year is great.”
Sunday is the 17th Cup Series race at the Speedway and, to Paddock, the event is still growing. He called it “still one of the new kids on the block” of the Chicago sports scene compared to the Bears, Cubs and the other teams.
“I think we’ve made tremendous progress in building the brand of motorsports in the Chicagoland market and exposing our sport to new fans who didn’t grow up with it,” Paddock said.
Martin Truex Jr., who won last year’s Joliet race, enters as the top seed in the playoffs.
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