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NASCAR returns Sept. 13-15 to Chicagoland Speedway

Matthew Evans 14 holds his brother Tyler 3 up so he can see inside ChicagolSpeedway race car during annual Race

Matthew Evans, 14, holds his brother, Tyler, 3, up so he can see inside the Chicagoland Speedway race car during the annual Race Fan Rally for NASCAR on Chicago Street in downtown Joliet. | File Photo

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NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Dollar General 300

♦ Sept. 13-15

♦ Chicagoland Speedway

♦ Tickets, $55-$140

♦ (888) 629-7223

Race Fan Rally

♦ Sept. 12

♦ Downtown Joliet

♦ Free

♦ (815) 774-6066

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Updated: September 9, 2013 2:20PM

For race fans, the upcoming weekend is like the Super Bowl, a birthday and a “Star Wars” convention all rolled into one.

NASCAR rolls into Joliet Sept. 13 to 15 with the main event, the GEICO 400, taking place Sept. 15. In the NASCAR world, this is the first “Race in the Chase,” the first of 10 “playoff”-style NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in pursuit of the 2013 championship.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will kick off the weekend on Sept. 13 along with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying. On Sept. 14, the Dollar General 300 powered by Coca-Cola NASCAR Nationwide Series returns, with the GEICO 400 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup concluding the weekend on Sept. 15.

The sport’s top drivers will be in town for the weekend, said Nicole Mancuso Meagher, director of communications at Chicagoland Speedway. Names like Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer. (Fans of the A&E show “Duck Dynasty” will recognize Bowyer from a recent episode.)

Even within the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series, Meagher said, there are a lot of great names; like Austin Dylan and the “hometown” driver, Justin Allgaier of Riverton, Ill.

“Not only is he racing in the Nationwide Series here, but he is making his Sprint Cup debut during the GEICO 400, which is really exciting,” she said. “You can race in multiple series, but you can’t compete in a championship in all three.”

He is a full-time Nationwide Series driver but is testing the waters of the premier series in NASCAR.

“Justin’s our hometown guy and we wish him the best of luck, and we’re certainly excited to see him compete in the GEICO 400,” she said.

What it means

Friday’s race is the qualifying race, which determines the starting positions for Sunday’s race.

“That’s what leads into that night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Race, which … will be the 225,” she said. “That will be a night race under the lights. It’s always fun when it’s a night race. It’s a lot of excitement.”

Bands will perform throughout the day in Champion’s Park and there will be radio stations broadcasting live on site, she said.

Saturday’s race is the Nationwide Dollar General 300 with a 2:30 p.m. start time and driver introductions starting at 2 p.m. Champion’s Park is open all day with lots of opportunities to walk around and see sponsor’s displays, Meagher said.

“We also have our Pit and Infield Fan Zone, which is open all weekend long,” she said. “On Saturday, you get to get down in the infield, we will have driver Q-and-As, and opportunities to watch the driver’s red carpet as they’re heading into the driver’s meeting. So it’s a lot of fun activities beyond just the actual racing taking place.”

The National Anthem will be sung by the Chicago Blackhawks’ singer Jim Cornelison.

“We’re super excited to have him,” she said. “That will be a lot of fun.”

In the Checkered Flag Fan Zone hospitality area Saturday, NASCAR legends Bobby and Donnie Allison will make an appearance.

Sideline fun

The Kid Zone will be set up all weekend in Champion’s Park.

“So for our youngest fans, there will be a space for them to have some fun,” she said. “Dash the mascot will be making appearances, we hope to have some driver story times taking place, and then we also will have live musical performances in Champion’s Park on our stage by the Miller Pit Stop.”

Sunday is jam-packed with racing action, she said.

People with passes to the Pit and Infield Fan Zone will have pre-race access to Gatorade Victory Lane and get to view the drivers’ red carpet walk and have access to the Q-and-A sessions.

Those pass holders will also be allowed to participate in the Coca-Cola Family Track Walk Sunday morning. Any fan with that Pit and Infield Fan Zone pass can get down on the track and walk around the track with a few of Coca Cola’s drivers leading the walk, she said.

“We’re very fortunate to be one of the four tracks this year hosting the track walk,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for fans to walk the track before the first Race in the Chase gets underway.”

Rising country music star Brantley Gilbert will perform a pre-race concert Sunday.

“We’re incredibly excited to have him performing,” she said.

Pit and Infield Pass holders can watch the concert from the grass, she said.

After the concert, there will be driver introductions and even a fly-over, she said.

“We’re thrilled we were able to make that happen, because it’s much more challenging now than ever to secure those flyovers,” she said.

The main event

Sunday’s race gets underway at 1 p.m. with driver introductions starting at 12:30. Danielle Bradbery, the 17-year-old Texas native and winner of Season 4 of “The Voice,” will perform the National Anthem prior to the GEICO 400.

“We’re ending the weekend with the premier series,” Meagher said. “A fun fact is that for the last two years, the driver who has won the first Race in the Chase here at the Chicagoland Speedway has gone on to win the championship. We had Tony Stewart in 2011, and last year’s winner was Brad Keselowski, who went on to win the championship. We’ll see if this year is third time’s the charm.”

After the race, everyone is allowed to access the track by the start-finish line, she said.

“It’s literally right where the world’s best drivers finished competing,” she said. “That’s free to anyone with a ticket.”

For people who want to camp, there are non-electric spots still available, she said.

There will be no shortage of activity this race weekend, she said.

“With the races taking place Friday through Sunday and all the various on-site entertainment we have taking place, there truly is something for everyone beyond just the excitement of hosting that first Race in the Chase and the competitive racing we’re going to see.”

Race Fan Rally

Before everything else happens, fans will want to check out the Race Fan Rally in downtown Joliet.

The annual event runs from 4 to 10 p.m. Sept. 12 in downtown Joliet. It is presented by members of the Will County Center for Economic Development and the Joliet City Center Partnership.

The afternoon kicks off with the hauler parade. The parade begins at Hollywood Casino in Joliet at 4:30 p.m. Thursday and concludes at the track around 6 p.m.

“It should be most if not all of the premier trucks, so at least 40 of the haulers,” said Nicole Mancuso Meagher, director of communications at Chicagoland Speedway.

Other viewing locations include McBrody’s, the Joliet Public Library, the Joliet Area Historical Museum and of course the ending spot, Chicagoland Speedway.

There will be driver appearances at the Race Fan Rally.

Driver Kevin Harvick headlines the list of drivers that will appear on the main stage at the annual Joliet Race Fan Rally. The driver of the number 29 Budweiser Chevrolet out of the Richard Childress Racing stable, Harvick is a 21-time race winner in NASCAR’s top series, including wins in the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.

Drivers from the NASCAR Next program are also slated to attend. NASCAR Next is a program that showcases the top prospects in NASCAR that someday hope to reach NASCAR’s top level, the Sprint Cup Series.

Thirteen drivers, ranging in ages from 15 to 24, make up this year’s class. Of the 13, two are sons of former Daytona 500 champions and NASCAR stars; and one is a female driver.

This year’s class includes: Jeb Burton, son of Ward Burton; Chase Elliott, the son of Bill Elliott; 15-year-old Grey Gaulding, Ryan Gifford, Cameron Hayley, Ben Kennedy, Dylan Kwasniewski, Brett Moffitt, Ryan Preece, Ben Rhodes, Kenzie Ruston, Michael Self and Daniel Suarez.

Additionally, the bands 7th Heaven and the 1950s-themed cover band, Cadillac Casanovas will perform.

There will be food vendors and a kid zone with games, contests, face painting and more. Activities include a rock climbing wall, large-scale sized remote control racing experience, a controlled water fight zone, free giveaway items and entertainment from street clowns and mascots.

A classic car show will have hot rods, muscle cars and classic pickups.

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