Daytona champ Stenhouse says racing in downtown Chicago will be 'pretty special'
For as many hours as they spend behind the wheel, how many NASCAR drivers get to the experience the joy of city traffic -- stuck in a logjam, running late and going nowhere?
"We do get a lot of traffic in North Carolina around Charlotte," said Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who was in town to help promote this summer's race on the streets of Chicago.
Go ahead and be skeptical about the amount of heavy traffic in Charlotte. Stenhouse said he was stuck in traffic on the way to O'Hare as he spoke on the phone.
When asked if he drove on any of the roads where the NASCAR race will be held July 2, Stenhouse had to ask his driver. The answer was no.
"I've been riding and doing phone interviews every time, so I have no clue where we actually were driving," he said. "I have made laps on a simulator on the streets of Chicago."
The Chicago event will be the first street race in the history of NASCAR. The course is basically shaped like a number 8, circling Grant Park with Buckingham Fountain in the middle. The city is expecting 100,000 visitors for the weekend, which will also include an Xfinity series race on July 1.
"It's a big deal," Stenhouse said. "NASCAR's looking to the future of all the possibilities of our sport. We've been in a (Los Angeles) Coliseum, we're going to a street course and we're going back to a racetrack we hadn't been to in over a decade (North Wilkesboro, N.C.), so what NASCAR is doing with the schedule is making it exciting for the fans.
"Our schedule was the same forever, so I think coming to Chicago, getting right in downtown, right on the lake, is a pretty cool backdrop for a NASCAR race."
Stenhouse is still basking in the glow of his Daytona 500 victory on Sunday. It was his first win since 2017, and the first by a single-car racing team at Daytona since 2011. Stenhouse drives for JTG Daugherty Racing, whose ownership group includes former Cleveland Cavaliers center Brad Daugherty.
"Last couple days have been a lot of fun, trying to take it all in," he said. "We obviously won on Sunday, celebrated Sunday night, then Monday was get up and do media. Went to Disney (World) on Monday afternoon, flew back home to Charlotte, then left at 7 a.m. to come to Chicago.
"Had a ton of stuff to do here in Chicago to promote our win at the Daytona 500, to promote our street race here, now we're headed back to the airport and off to New York. It's been a lot of fun."
NASCAR used to do a yearly stop at the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet. The race was held from 2001-19, but it's not clear if it will ever return.
"We won at the Chicagoland Speedway back in the Nationwide series," Stenhouse said. "It was always a really fun racetrack to go to. I guess the one complaint all the drivers had and probably some of the fans was it wasn't close enough to Chicago.
"But here we are, NASCAR listened and we're in downtown Chicago now. I think that's pretty special."