Thursday, April 18, 2024

Shane van Gisbergen stellar in Chicago, wins Cup debut

Shane van Gisbergen is the top driver in the Supercars Championship today as the reigning champion, but he solidified his standing as one of the best racers in general on Sunday as he won the NASCAR Cup Series‘ inaugural Grant Park 220 on the streets of Chicago in his first ever stock car race.

Riding on newer tyres, Gisbergen consistently set the fastest lap times in the closing twenty laps before catching leader Justin Haley. Despite a late caution for Bubba Wallace and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s crash that triggered overtime, Gisbergen cleared Haley after just two corners and pulled away for the walk-off win.

He is the first driver in NASCAR’s modern era to win in his Cup début and seventh all time at the top level after Jim Roper (1949, inaugural Cup race), Jack White (1949), Harold Kite (1950), Leon Sales (1950), Marvin Burke (1951), and Johnny Rutherford (1963). The Kiwi also joins fellow Supercar veteran Marcos Ambrose, Mario Andretti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Earl Ross, and Trackhouse Racing team-mate Daniel Suárez as the six international-born Cup winners.

Trackhouse’s #91, operated as part of PROJECT91 to attract global racing stars to NASCAR, became the first part-time Cup vehicle to visit Victory Lane since Wood Brothers Racing‘s #21 won the 2011 Daytona 500 with Trevor Bayne. The number had also last won a Cup race in 1953 at Hickory courtesy of Tim Flock.

“This was so cool. This is what you dream of. Hopefully I can come and do more,” said Gisbergen. While his Supercars obligations keep him in Australia for 2024, the triple champion has been keen about committing to NASCAR on a more regular basis afterwards. “When we had that back strategy back to eighteenth, I started to worry a bit but had some full stands on some people and the racing was really good, everyone was respectful. It was tough but a lot of fun.

“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.”

Gisbergen impressed almost immediately when he led practice before qualifying third. Although he fell to eighteenth at one point, he methodically worked his way back up to the front before entering the battle for the lead with Haley on lap 71.

Despite Haley’s best efforts, including an attempted pass on Gisbergen in overtime after losing the lead, he was forced to settle for second. Missing out on the win is an obvious disappointment, especially as he is twenty-third in points and trying to make the playoffs, though his effort was nothing to scoff at as he had to hold off seven-time road course race winner Chase Elliott for the runner-up position. Had he been able to defeat Gisbergen, Haley would have notched his second Cup win, the first also coming on an American Independence Day weekend marred by rain.

“Congrats to PROJECT91. It sucks, where we are right now, we aren’t in position to win every week, so coming that close obviously is not what you want,” commented Haley. “I was really struggling under the braking zones. Felt like I could get off the corner better than anyone, but what are you going to do? He had sixteen-lap fresher tyres.”

Kyle Busch salvaged a fifth after crashing into the tyre barrier in turn six on the opening lap. Multiple drivers went around in that accident including pole winner Denny Hamlin, who spent the rest of the race trying to make up lost ground and placed eleventh. Hamlin’s team-mate Christopher Bell and employee Tyler Reddick finished 1–2 in Stage #1 and the former also won the second leg, but neither finished in the top ten as Bell was taken out by a spin while Reddick was another turn six victim.

The biggest accident came on lap 48 when William Byron missed the right-hand corner in turn eleven. Behind him, Kevin Harvick was clipped by Corey LaJoie and spun in front of the track, causing a massive pile-up that forced eleven other cars to come to a stop.

Legacy Motor Club ruined team boss Richard Petty‘s 86th birthday with a difficult showing, adding to an already dismal season. Erik Jones and Noah Gragson were involved in the first-lap fracas, and the latter struggled mightily as he spun into the turn six tyre barrier twice to produce cautions. The team was also without co-owner Jimmie Johnson, who was to pilot a third car but withdrew days before due to family matters.

F1 champion Jenson Button, who recently piloted a Cup car at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, finished twenty-first in his second NASCAR start. He was spun while pitting in the early stages of the race, which he described as “a real shame. I think we pitted at the right time. We went from wets to dries. It was a tricky choice. I couldn’t see out of the windscreen it was so dirty, but I think it was the right choice. When we got turned around we lost fifteen places plus, so that made it very difficult, but it was fun out there. I had some good fights. I got overtaken by some, but I overtook a lot more, so it was enjoyable.”

The race was shortened from the original 100 laps to 75—a decision made when racing had already begun—due to the weather and fear of not being able to complete the full distance before nightfall. Rain had forced the Xfinity Series support round to be called off before it reached halfway. Concerns about visibility also prompted NASCAR to order restarts to happen single file rather than the standard two abreast.

Despite the elements heavily impacting the weekend and initial skepticism about stock cars on a street course, many drivers seemed to consider it a rousing hit from an on-track standpoint.

“For a street course, I think it raced better than I thought it would,” commented Chase Briscoe, who finished twentieth. “There are definitely parts that can be improved like widening the track and other certain things, but all things considered, it surprised me compared to what I thought it was going to be. I thought there were a ton of fans here, and I thought the event was cool. I would have loved for the weather to cooperate, so we could have seen what this event could’ve really turned into because there were still so many people out there for how bad the weather was. Hopefully, we can do it again, do a couple things better, and put on an even better race.”

Race results

Finish Start Number Driver Team Manufacturer Laps Status
1 3 91 Shane van Gisbergen Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 78 Running
2 37 31 Justin Haley Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 78 Running
3 26 9 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 78 Running
4 7 5 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 78 Running
5 18 8 Kyle Busch Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 78 Running
6 31 2 Austin Cindric Team Penske Ford 78 Running
7 6 34 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford 78 Running
8 9 22 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford 78 Running
9 12 54 Ty Gibbs Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 78 Running
10 15 17 Chris Buescher RFK Racing Ford 78 Running
11 1 11 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 78 Running
12 24 10 Aric Almirola Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 78 Running
13 22 24 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 78 Running
14 19 7 Corey LaJoie Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 78 Running
15 28 41 Ryan Preece Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 78 Running
16 21 43 Erik Jones Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet 78 Running
17 10 16 A.J. Allmendinger Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 78 Running
18 4 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 78 Running
19 25 38 Todd Gilliland Front Row Motorsports Ford 78 Running
20 16 14 Chase Briscoe Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 78 Running
21 8 15 Jenson Button Rick Ware Racing Ford 78 Running
22 34 1 Ross Chastain Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 78 Running
23 27 78 Josh Bilicki* Live Fast Motorsports Chevrolet 78 Running
24 20 6 Brad Keselowski RFK Racing Ford 78 Running
25 23 42 Noah Gragson Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet 78 Running
26 30 51 Andy Lally Rick Ware Racing Ford 78 Running
27 5 99 Daniel Suárez Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 78 Running
28 2 45 Tyler Reddick 23XI Racing Toyota 78 Running
29 35 4 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 78 Running
30 32 21 Harrison Burton Wood Brothers Racing Ford 78 Running
31 14 23 Bubba Wallace 23XI Racing Toyota 78 Running
32 11 19 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 77 Running
33 17 12 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford 77 Running
34 36 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 77 Running
35 33 77 Ty Dillon Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 67 Suspension
36 29 3 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 62 Accident
37 13 48 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 40 Accident
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for points