Shane van Gisbergen’s name will forever ring loud in NASCAR lore.
In his first career NASCAR Cup Series start, the three-time Supercars champion wheeled Trackhouse Racing’s No. 91 entry to a stunning victory in the inagural Chicago Street Race.
With the win in the Grant Park 220, van Gisbergen became the first driver since Johnny Rutherford in 1963 at Daytona (Fla.) Int’l Speedway to score a NASCAR win in his first start.
The 34-year-old driver from New Zealand joined Rutherford and five other drivers to win in their first start.
Despite his polished resumé, did the supercars ace actually believe he had a shot of winning this weekend when the deal came together?
“No, of course not but you always dream of it,” van Gisbergen said. “Thank you so much to the Trackhouse team and Enhance Health, Project91. What an experience in the crowd out here. This was so cool. This is what you dream of. Hopefully I can come and do more.”
Van Gisbergen became the sixth driver born outside the United States to win a Cup Series race, joining the likes of Mario Andretti (Italy), Marcos Ambrose (Australia), Juan Pablo Montoya (Columbia), Earl Ross (Canada) and Daniel Suarez (Mexico).
“Anything is possible,” van Gisbergen said. “But the fans in Australia and New Zealand, the response this week and the coverage has been — I can’t explain it. Like the response and the support I’ve got from everyone and even over here how welcoming everyone is, I can’t believe it. Dream come true.”
Finishing runner-up, Justin Haley’s valiant effort came up short after leading 23 laps in the dire stages of battle on the 2.2-mile circuit.
“It was tough. I put it in the tire barrier yesterday and we stayed up all night, I stayed with the guys through the rain and rewrapped this thing, put a new body on it, and Benesch came on for this weekend,” Haley said.
“Obviously congrats to Project91. It sucks, obviously, where we are right now we don’t have a — we aren’t in position to win every week, so coming that close obviously is not what you want.
“But just really proud of everyone at Kaulig Racing and what an awesome event. Can’t wait to come back next year.”
Chase Elliott battled back from a shunt into the tire barrier early to finish third. It was Elliott’s third consecutive top 10 finish aboard the No. 9 for Hendrick Motorsports.
Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch rallied to make it an all-Chevrolet top-five. Three Ford Mustangs in Austin Cindric (6th), Michael McDowell (7th) and Joey Logano followed suit at the finish.
The Setup To History
Van Gisbergren endured the full NASCAR experience, from rain delays, to tough side-by-side battles to a classic overtime experience.
On the second to final restart with five laps to go, Haley held onto the lead after electing to go with a different strategy earlier in the event.
At the drop of the green flag, van Gisbergen dove low to decisively take over the top spot off turn two. Haley wasn’t done yet.
Haley shot back underneath the No. 91 to take over the lead in the following corner, but van Gisbergren had the last laugh, swiping the lead away from the Kaulig Racing driver for one final time in turn four.
From there, van Gisbergren was untouchable on the 12-turn circuit.
Despite a caution flag for a wrecked Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the tire barriers that triggered overtime, van Gisbergen remained poised.
The Trackhouse Racing driver went error-free on the ensuing restart, leading the rest of the way to the checkered flag.
On top of the pit box for van Gisbergen was veteran crew chief Darian Grubb. It was Grubb’s 24th career victory, who’s won races with Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Casey Mears.
As It Happened
After the event was delayed by an hour-and-a-half due to persistent rain, the rain covers came off the cars to begin the event. At the start, polesitter Denny Hamlin conceded the lead to 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick on lap one.
Multiple accidents plagued the opening laps, including Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski and Noah Gragson piling up into a tire barrier.
Shortly after Hamlin stuffed his No. 11 Toyota into the turn four tire barrier, Busch brought out the race’s first caution flag.
On lap three, Busch slammed into the turn six tires, stuffing his No. 8 Chevrolet underneath the makeshift wall.
He would re-fire and continue on without much damage.
Soon after, Christopher Bell shot to the lead on lap nine, leading to the Joe Gibbs Racing driver earning the Stage One win.
With no caution flags for Stage breaks on road/street courses, green flag stops began just after Stage Two.
Jenson Button cut off Chris Buescher at the entrance of pit road on lap 22, sending the driver of the No. 15 Ford spinning and almost colliding with reigning Cup Series champion Joey Logano. All drivers would continue without damage.
Three laps later, 11th-running Elliott went off in turn two and hit the wall after exiting the pits. He would continue without a caution flag.
After a wet start to the race, lap 25 would see the leaders transition to slick tires.
Van Gisbergen inherited the lead after leaders Bell and Reddick pit.
Four laps later, Gragson brought out the caution flag after stuffing his No. 42 Chevrolet into the turn six barrier.
Lap 39 saw yet another yellow flag wave due to a spinning Alex Bowman. The Hendrick Motorsports driver caused the ensuing caution flag as well after stalling on the track due to an engine failure.
Under caution, Bell earned the Stage Two victory.
On lap 46 with sunset on the horizon, NASCAR officially shortened the race from 100 laps to 75 to ensure every lap was completed.
The caution flag for Bowman brought strategy variations among the leaders. The lead pack came down pit road, while 11 drivers elected to stay out for track position.
Among those was Haley, who inherited the lead on lap 48. Bell was the first driver off pit road in 12th.
A massive pileup on the restart jumbled a plethora of drivers into a log jam in turn 11 after William Byron hit the tire barrier. As Corey LaJoie checked up, Kevin Harvick spun LaJoie, beginning a chain reaction that included Bubba Wallace, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Michael McDowell, Hamlin and Bell among others.
They would all drive away without further damage.
Fourth-running Reddick was the culprit of the lap 57 caution flag after getting stuck in the turn six tire barrier. Reddick would finish 28th.
With Haley still in control, Austin Dillon hounded the rear bumper of Haley for a handful of laps before missing the corner in turn one and slapping the concrete barrier before ricocheting into the tire barrier, heavily damaging the left side of his race car. Dillon limped his No. 3 Chevrolet to pit lane, finishing 36th.
Van Gisbergen had vaulted his way to second with eight laps to go before a caution flag waved due to Truex sliding into a tire barrier.
From there, van Gisbergen swiped the lead away and outlasted an overtime restart to take the win in historic fashion.