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The Fourth Turn - Keselowski Wins!
Author: Paul Gohde
September 16th 2012 -

Racing in Chicago has a storied history going back to the fabled Roby Speedway, Soldiers Field, Meadowdale Raceway and Chicago Motor Speedway.

What all of those tracks have in common, however, is that they no longer exist as motorsports facilities.

Roby’s dirt mile was located in the Hammond/Gary area and is now part of the Chicago Skyway. Soldiers Field on the Lake Michigan shore hosted NASCAR, USAC and regional racing into the 70’s, but now is the home of the da’ Bears. Meadowdale, in suburban Carpentersville, burned brightly as a road course for about ten years in the 50’s and 60’s, but is now a nature preserve. Chicago Motor Speedway in Cicero was an urban facility near Midway Airport that was built on the site of a horse racing complex, but after some CART races and a few ASA and NASCAR Truck Series events, it, too, disappeared.

Enter Chicagoland Speedway in 2001, designed to bring ‘big time’ racing action to the Windy City area.

With seat licenses for its 68,000-seat grandstand,  season ticket packages and shiny suites, it mirrored the stick and ball sport facilities in its approach to the ticket buying fan.

Two or three events a year don’t always make an impression on the sporting public, however, and both Indy Car and NASCAR events saw a decline in attendance over the years as fewer fans journeyed out to Joliet on a regular basis: Chicago has a lot of other events to attract your attention I hear.

But with Sunday’s running of the first race in the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup, it appears that the track has turned the corner, as a nearly full house of over 65,000 witnessed the Geico 400 under sunny, blue skies.

Chicagoland is a very well-maintained, fan-friendly track that has improved the spectator experience over the years, and that corporate policy is responsible for bringing the fans back.

The track has two NASCAR weekends on its 1.5 mile oval, but has lost its Indy Car event, suffering from the same problems encountered by the open-wheelers at other oval venues.

The facility hosts an NHRA Mello Yello National drag racing event in June every year along with a popular series of weekly drag strip events. A half-mile dirt oval, designed for sprint cars and other traveling series adds to the fan appeal as does a well-used race weekend camping facility.

Tracks of 1.5 miles in length like Kansas, Las Vegas, Texas and Chicago have been labeled as ‘cookie-cutter’ facilities by some due to their sameness. But Chicagoland has worked hard to stay ahead of the others, and judging by Sunday’s gathering, they are succeeding.

WEEKEND NOTES:

•    As opposed to the many teams that are scratching anywhere for sponsorship, Dale Earnhardt Jr. made it known that his Hendrick team has sponsors beating down the door for 2013: “We have the majority of the season with the National Guard and then Diet Mountain Dew is backing-off a bit and that makes it a bit of a challenge to fill that small of a gap. A bit larger gap would be easier to fill. We have more demand than we have supply pretty much. We’ve just got to kind of decide which one is going to work out; which one we want to work with.”

•    Nineteen-year-old ARCA driver Alex Bowman made his first NASCAR start Saturday in the Dollar        General 300 at Chicagoland Speedway Saturday. Bowman, who won the ARCA event at Madison (WI) Int. Speedway in 2011, piloted the Allegiant Chevrolet fielded by Turner Motorsports to a 17th place finish after starting 20th. After the 300, Bowman hurried to Salem (IN) Speedway where he finished fifth in the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers ARCA Fall Classic.

•    Stenhouse poo-pooed the accepted notion that running the Nationwide race on Saturday gives a Sprint Cup pilot an advantage on Sunday-at least here at Chicago: “In Nationwide you don’t have to lift all the way to run through the corners here, but you do in Cup cars. You have to use brake and you drive them totally different. I think you learn quite a bit watching on TV. If they (other drivers) are watching in their motorhomes, they’ll see the different lines we’re running and how they come in. Air pressure is the one similarity between the two cars.”

•    The track announced an attendance figure of 34,000 for the Nationwide Series event and 65,000 for the Geico 400.

•    There were a reported thirteen start-and-park cars that retired from the Dollar General 300 by lap 30. Some in the press box labeled this a new NASCAR record, though official records aren’t yet kept for this category.

•    Country singing star Luke Bryan met the media Sunday morning prior to his pre-race concert here at Chicagoland.

•    Kyle Busch hinted after the NNS race that since he’s not in the Sprint Cup Chase, he might run a few more Nationwide events: “Kurt (Busch) was originally slated to run this race…but I felt that would be a positive for me to run here because I ran the spring race here. As far as what remains for the rest of the year-Kurt is still in the car at Kentucky and I think a couple of other races. We’ll keep playing it by ear and see what happens. I think I own it so I can run as many as I want, right?”

•    Michael Waltrip Racing announced that PEAK Motor Oil will become a primary sponsor on Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 Toyota for three races in each of the next three Sprint Cup seasons. PEAK will also be an associate sponsor on the No. 56 NAPA and No. 55 Aaron’s cars driven by Mark Martin, Brian Vickers and Waltrip.

•    Roush Fenway Racing president Steve Newmark announced officially that that Stenhouse Jr. will be in the No. 17 Ford in 2013 replacing the departing Matt Kenseth. He also noted that Best Buy will be that team’s ‘anchor’ sponsor and will be the primary sponsor for several races on Carl Edwards’ No. 99.