CHICAGO — The weather took the spotlight as New Zealand’s Shane van Gisbergen took control late down the stretch to win his NASCAR debut in the first ever NASCAR street race Sunday.
Van Gisbergen became the first driver to win in his debut since Johnny Rutherford won in Daytona 60 years ago.
He was brought into Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks’ team as part of Marks’ Project 91. The project brings over global talent to race in one of his cars, with the team only racing three times in a year for the time being. With the development of NASCAR cars being more and more similar to those overseas, Marks wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and van Gisbergen got the call for the street race.
Van Gisbergen took advantage of the opportunity presented to him and used his street circuit experience from his time in the Supercars Championship where he won titles in 2016, 2021 and 2022 and the results showed for themselves.
“This is my sort of bread and butter — the street circuits. Almost half of our series races are street circuits, so I’m comfortable with the walls. It took me a bit to learn the proximity of the car. Having the car on the other side of me so I was missing apexes turning left and struggling turning right,” van Gisbergen said.
From others’ standpoints — including that of Kyle Larson who finished fourth — that experience was evident as drivers watched him fly past en route to the 1.259-second win.
“It was so fun to watch from my view. When he got to my back bumper, I felt like I pieced together a really good section and I thought for sure I’d look in the mirror and I was going to be two car lengths or something in front and he was glued to my back bumper,” Kyle Larson said.
“He was able to get by me and then I got to watch the show. I kind of followed him through and the moves he was making — really everywhere. He could pass anywhere, but the moves he could make at the two was really neat to see and then the pass that he had for the lead,” Larson continued.
While van Gisbergen’s dominant debut was the storyline post-race, it was the weather and course conditions that took the headlines before and during the race. Rain poured down virtually nonstop throughout the day and would not only cancel the completion of the Xfinity Series race, but would also delay the NASCAR Cup Series race until 5:30 p.m. When the race finally got underway, the difficult conditions were put on full display as nine cautions would occur throughout the 78-lap race that was shortened due to daylight restrictions
In the end, despite all the difficulties presented by some long-awaited rain in the city of Chicago, the weekend was seen as a massive success to the administrators that help put the event together, including Senior Vice President of Racing Development and Strategy Ben Kennedy.
“Certainly a remarkable weekend. A historic weekend for us… A huge thank you to the city of Chicago. The city showed up so well today from the backdrop on NBC, to the energy among the fans in the city and the crowds. It was certainly remarkable to see,” Kennedy said.
“A lot of credit to the entire team. Julie Giese and the entire team here in Chicago that have been working on this every single day since we announced it on July 19 of last year. Getting this event ready for this weekend and then the production as well. Certainly a neat event. Good to see a first-time winner in Shane and as a fan it was a lot of fun to watch,” Kennedy continued.
Despite receiving its fair share of backlash in the weeks leading up to the race, the success was clear to all in attendance as the sport of NASCAR continues to look to grow in as many ways possible, both in the United States and internationally.