Photo credit: Nigel Kinrade Photography

'The Crown' is the key for NASCAR drivers in Chicago

CONCORD, N.C. -- Conquering a street course is not the same as winning on a road course. There are certainly similarities between the courses, but there are also noticeable differences. The existence of the crown is one of the biggest.

The crown, described as an elevation change in the road, is something drivers need to be aware of as they go through the left and right turns in Chicago this weekend. Knowing how to properly approach it can make a world of difference.

"The public streets have the crown in the roads so the water drains off and goes into the sewer systems," Austin Cindric said Tuesday during a sitdown with media members. "Like that is the epitome of street course racing, dealing with those crowns and the road.

"Is there a way to drive your car to combat that because it's gonna make your car do uncomfortable things and you're gonna have to manage it through that."

Residents of cities and towns don't have to think about the crowns on the roads. After all, these elevation changes do their job by funneling water toward the drainage system.

Racers know that they can't prepare for a street race in the same way they do a road course. The surface alone drastically changes throughout the year.

Adding in the unexpected elevation changes due to the crowns only increases the level of difficulty. Drivers have to enter the race weekend with the knowledge that putting their car in a bad position while going over a crown could negatively impact their day.

"You have to play those crowns, absolutely, and that's what's also a little bit different about street racing,"  veteran racer Joey Hand told media members ahead of his first Cup start with RFK Racing. "On one side of them -- normally on the entry side of them -- to start with, you're off-camber and as you drop over the crown on that street you're on before you get to the apex, you're on-camber.

"You stay on-camber normally through the apex of the crosswalk, if you will, and then you fly back out of that crown off-camber again, so you have to -- like I say  --make your money in the right spots. So, if you look at track maps like a 2D (image), you look straight down and they all look like 90-degree corners, but you don't drive them like that. You don't drive them like a standard flat 90-degree corner. You have to really think about where that crown is and where you turn in."

Hand and Cindric both grew up racing on street courses. Cindric, in particular, was competing in St. Petersburg at the age of 14. Both drivers know how to prepare for the crowns, as does three-time Supercars champ Shane van Gisbergen.

What about the drivers in the Xfinity and Cup fields who may not have the same level of experience? How will they prepare for this added level of difficulty with only 20 minutes of practice?

They just have to pay closer attention to the details when given the opportunity.

"We do sim work and the tracks are scanned and you can see what's going on pretty much, but it still doesn't exactly tell you what you're gonna see when you walk it," Hand said.

"So when I do the track walk on Friday afternoon, I'll be able to tell exactly what those crown heights look like and how much they drop in at the apexes."