Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks will have one of the best views in town when NASCAR rolls into Chicago this weekend for a historic two days of racing on the streets of one of America’s iconic cities.
Before the Cup Series, where Trackhouse drivers - Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez and Shane van Gisbergen – race in Sunday’s landmark event (the first major downtown street-course race in NASCAR Cup history), the Xfinity Series will run on the same course Saturday. And Marks will be along for the ride.
Marks, who has raced in all three NASCAR national series and is a successful veteran of sports car racing, will drive the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet in Saturday’s race, a 55-lap event over the 2.2-mile track which weaves along Lake Michigan and on Lake Shore Drive, Columbus Drive and Michigan Avenue in the Grant Park area. Saturday’s race will be Marks’ first appearance in Xfinity racing since 2018.
Marks drove in portions of nine seasons in Xfinity before charting a new course as a NASCAR team owner. He won the Xfinity race at Mid-Ohio in 2016, leading 43 of 75 laps.
Marks said the opportunity to participate directly in a historic auto racing weekend was the only incentive he needed to return to the driver’s seat.
“It’s interesting because I never really had an interest in coming back to the Xfinity Series or the Cup Series to do any racing,” Marks said. “But street racing is pretty much my favorite type of racing that there is. I just kind of got this idea in my head like – I’ve been running my Trans-Am car, and it would be fun to jump back in and experience that.
“I raced in the first race in the Xfinity Series that ran in the rain, and now to have this opportunity to race this first one on a street course was just something I wanted to put on my resume. I just sort of socialized it lightly, and it really came together when we started talking to Kaulig Racing. They couldn’t put AJ (Allmendinger) in the No. 10 car since the Cup drivers can’t race (in the Xfinity event). Obviously, that’s the fastest road course car in the series, and that opportunity was there. And then our partners at (sponsor) Jockey said if that’s something you want to do, we’d love to be a part of it and came on board for it. It all just came together organically, so it’ll be fun.
“Because I don’t drive full-time anymore, I go into it with an interesting mindset. I can go and be aggressive and drive hard, but I won’t be having a boss and I won’t be racing for a championship.”
The racing on Saturday (and, for that matter, Sunday) will happen under an umbrella of unknown. NASCAR will put its heavy stock cars on a relatively narrow street course for the first time, and, despite simulator runs, no one knows exactly what to expect.
“Street racing requires more discipline in patience and racecraft than any kind of racing in the world,” Marks said. “This group of guys have the tendency to waver a little bit late in the race -- we see that a lot of times with green-white-checkers on road courses and stuff. My hope is that we get to see a lot of green flag racing. I think there’s a risk that a portion of the race, a substantial portion of the race, will be behind the safety car. I hope that’s not the case because I think street racing can put on some of the best racing that anyone can see. Especially late in the races when fuel is burned off and the tires are sliding around and people are getting more courageous. I think it’s really, really exciting. In talking to some of the other competitors, I mean it’s all over the map as far as what people think we’re going to see, which I think is exciting.
“Street racing is so much about precision in the racecraft and focus. The consequences of a little tiny mistake can be big. On a traditional road course, you can take more risks. You can run off the course and onto the grass. You don’t have that room on street courses.”
Even though drivers have learned a bit about the Chicago course through simulation, the first few laps on the actual surface will be educational, Marks said.
“There are unknowns, like where the bumps are and how those parts of the track will play into the handling of the cars,” he said. “There will be opportunities to pass that you don’t necessarily see in sims.”
Additionally, racing in Saturday’s event will give Marks valuable experience to share with Suarez, Chastain and Van Gisbergen (who will be driving Trackhouse’s PROJECT91 car) for their Sunday Cup run.
“I do think it will be somewhat of an asset to Trackhouse on Sunday because I’ll be able to do the race and communicate with these guys about how the surface changed, how the race went, things that I saw, things that I experienced,” Marks said. “To be able to finish that race and then go sit and just talk about what I experienced and hopefully give them some information that will help them in the race on Sunday.”
Although Marks made his racing name in sports cars, he has six starts in Cup, 35 in Xfinity and 39 in the Craftsman Truck Series. He raced for the Niece Motorsports truck team last year at Mid-Ohio, finishing 31st.