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Shane van Gisbergen gets ready for a practice session for an ARCA Mendards Series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Feb. 15, 2024, in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

What to know about NASCAR's 2024 Chicago Street Race

“Street tracks are different every year, no matter where you go,” Shane van Gisbergen said. “The burial location is always different, whether inside the curb or on top of it. The track always changes.”

Entering the 2024 Chicago Street Race, 2023 champion Shane van Gisbergen is entering with a spotlight focused on him. He can’t sneak up on opposing drivers. He’s now the hunted — the champion.

After his victory last season, van Gisbergen’s competitors contacted him for advice. He estimated that 10-15 drivers could compete for the top spot.

He knows he’s the man to beat, but van Gisbergen isn’t approaching the race with any added pressure.

“I’m not putting pressure on myself like, ‘I have to win to get on top next year,’” van Gisbergen said. “But certainly, a good result will help that.”

The 12-turn, 2.2-mile course takes drivers through the heart of downtown. Everyone involved hopes to have a dry weekend of weather after last year’s downpour. Inclement weather ruined the experience and first impression NASCAR could have on Chicagoans during last year’s Chicago Street Race.

A street race is rare and benefitted van Gisbergen, a three-time Supercars champion who became the first driver since Johnny Rutherford in 1963 to win in his first Cup Series start.

The weather complicated the race for observers and drivers, who didn’t have traction because of the downpour. Manhole covers, a lengthy race and tight turns were among the factors that drivers hoped would be addressed for the 2024 iteration.

All reports are that NASCAR listened to its drivers. The Cup Series race, the Grant Park 165, shortened its course from 100 laps to 75. The Loop 110 will be 50 laps on Saturday.

“We know it’s bumpier than we thought it was last year,” driver Joey Logano said. “They definitely repaved a couple sections. So there’s that piece that’s going to be different.”

But there’s no competitive advantage to having competed in last year’s race, van Gisbergen said.

“Street tracks are different every year, no matter where you go,” van Gisbergen said. “The burial location is always different, whether inside the curb or on top of it. The track always changes.

The track didn’t really ramp up until the end last year when it dried up, so it was like a reset. Whereas if it’s dry all weekend, the track will be completely different. But it should be a good race track; there should be a lot of passing if it’s completely dry.”

Logano, who won last weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Nashville Superspeedway, quipped, “it’s nice to know where you’re going.”

“It’s the experience you get and knowing the little nuances of the track,” Logano said. “It’s so different than any other road course you go to, and it’s just a matter of finding those little details and getting comfortable.

“Knowing where the passing zones are, knowing how close you can get to the walls and being able to maximize things … that just takes some time and more laps will help.”

Most drivers said it’s hard to assess the changes because the course changes when the speed ramps up. Most of the notable changes come from studying opponents and shifting strategies during breaks in the race.

“We seem to figure it out fairly quickly,” Logano said. “Now, at least like passing zones, you study your competitors and see where they’re showing where you’re weak. You have an idea of things you want to make better to your car. There’s actually stuff to talk about.

“Last year, it’s just, ‘I don’t know, put on what you think is best, and we’ll tune in from there and hope it’s pretty close.’ Now, it seems like we have a little better direction.”

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