NASCAR Cup Series drivers finally took to the streets of Chicago Saturday after months of hype and anticipation for the sport’s first street course race.

“It’s wild. It’s wild in a good way,” 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace said. “The only thing I talked to my team about is I don’t feel – when I’m in the race car – the city aspect as much as you see it (outside the car). For me, it’s like, OK, don’t hit that concrete wall, don’t hit that one, look at the brake markers, make sure you hit the apex of the corner.

“So, I think we go into race mode, and it’s a good thing we’re not paying attention to the outside. But yeah, I’d say bonkers is a good word (for the weekend).”

“Honestly, it’s pretty close to what I expected,” Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s cool to be right there on the limit with literally no room for error.”

Because it’s a new course, NASCAR gave teams 50 minutes of practice before going into qualifying. There were a few issues in practice as drivers like William Byron and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. stepped over the limit and hit the wall. In qualifying, Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick had heavy crashes.

“Driving the race car is super fun,” Bowman said. “I am really enjoying that.”

Justin Haley could not qualify after his team had a shock issue in practice. He said Kaulig Racing just missed it when it came to the shock package, leading to him scrapping the wall. Even still, he was complimentary of the course.

“Besides the walls being a lot closer than a normal road course, it’s fine,” Haley said. “There are no issues.”

Some expected the course to feel more claustrophobic than drivers might be used to because of the walls and fencing. Unlike traditional road courses, where there is plenty of run-off area before getting to a tire barrier or fence, Chicago is completely enclosed.

“It’s fun,” Haley said.

Ryan Preece “loved” driving the course. But the Stewart-Haas Racing driver knows the fun can quickly dissipate.

“It was awesome,” Preece said. “I enjoyed it because it’s a constant challenge for yourself to keep pushing further and further into the corner and not overstepping it because I think you saw that one time you overstep it, there is no second chance.

“If you hit a wall, you’re going to bounce off into the other wall. If you overdrive it, you’re probably going to slide right into the tire barrier. So, it’s just finding that line.”

Stenhouse’s crash in practice came because he made a mistake entering the loop – Turn 8. Misjudging the right-hander and turning too soon, Stenhouse hit the wall with the right side of his JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet, which sent him into the opposite wall.

The damage was too significant for Stenhouse to make a qualifying attempt. He will be in a backup car for Sunday’s race.

“The track, though, I thought was really well built and it was fun making laps,” Stenhouse said. “The ride quality, at least in our cars, was somewhat OK, I felt like. I was having fun until I wasn’t, I guess.”

Despite worries about how the car would handle on the street course, there weren’t many complaints. In preparation for the event, drivers spoke of how bumpy and slippery the course felt in the simulator. On Saturday, however, some found it wasn’t as bad as the simulator made it seem. Aside from the usual bumps of being on a street course, the Next Gen car felt no different in Chicago than it has on a road course.

“It feels OK. It feels like normal. It feels like what you’d expect,” Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch said. “Honestly, it’s better served for this type of environment than the old car. You saw a lot of guys wheel hopping and having issues with the Xfinity (Series) car, which are truck arm cars, and that doesn’t lend itself to very good braking opportunities getting deep into corners and not wheel hopping.

“So this car here, you just kind of slid a tire here or there … but it doesn’t wheel hop and crash you. You just kind of slide a little bit, and you’ve got to get it back under control.”

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. was another driver who, despite his performance, was pleased with the course. He qualified 11th.

“It was fun today; definitely a challenge,” Truex said. “Every turn is different with the pavement and the bumps, and the different concrete spots and patches of different styles of asphalt and all those kind of things. It’s quite a challenge, but it was fun learning it today.

“I thought our practice went really well. We picked it up quick and had really good speed and then was a little disappointed in how we qualified. We just didn’t quite pick up like a lot of guys did when we put tires on there, so not sure about that, but felt really good on long-run race trim, so it should be fun tomorrow.”

NASCAR building a course in downtown Chicago left many drivers impressed. Whether it was from a logistical standpoint or the course itself, the weekend has been embraced by many and has already left a lasting impression.