Friday July 19th, 2024 11:26PM

van Gisbergen back in Chicago after career-altering NASCAR win a year ago

By Jay Cohen AP Sports Writer

CHICAGO — Shane van Gisbergen prefers the countryside to a big city, so Chicago isn't exactly his type of place.

Except for the Windy City streets. He likes those a lot.

Van Gisbergen is back in Chicago this weekend, the scene of his career-altering victory just over a year ago. The 35-year-old New Zealand native is entered in the Xfinity and Cup Series races on the downtown street course that remains a bit of an enigma for NASCAR drivers.

“It’s cool. It’s special to come back here,” he said Friday.

The last time van Gisbergen raced in Chicago, he was a largely unknown commodity — at least in the United States. A three-time champion in Australia's Supercars, he came over for a Cup Series start as part of Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91.

Then everything changed.

Making the most of his extensive street racing experience, van Gisbergen outdueled Justin Haley and Chase Elliott on his way to a historic victory. He became the first driver to win his Cup Series debut since Johnny Rutherford in the second qualifying race at Daytona in 1963.

The impressive performance on the 12-turn, 2.2-mile course — which had been pounded by rain and dried out during the series’ first street race — captured the attention of the rest of the Cup drivers.

“He's just smooth. I think that was the bottom line to what I saw,” said Joey Logano, who won last weekend in Tennessee. “What I think makes Shane good at these tracks, his ability to hit the apexes so tight without giving up entry speed is what makes him fast. To me, that’s pretty clear. And he gets so comfortable in those braking zones to be able to put ... his car where he needs to, it's pretty smooth.”

The victory led to a development deal with Trackhouse that put van Gisbergen in select races in the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series this year. He moved to North Carolina in December.

It also put more of a spotlight on the drivers in Australian Supercars. Will Brown and Cam Waters competed in the Cup Series race at Sonoma, with van Gisbergen serving as one of Brown's spotters.

“It’s definitely opened up the door for the V8 Supercar guys," Chase Briscoe said. “I feel like everywhere we go now, there’s always at least one in the field.”

Van Gisbergen's victory in the inaugural Chicago street race also had an effect on this year's edition. Track president Julie Giese said there was a noticeable increase in ticket sales in New Zealand.

Another strong weekend in Chicago could help catapult van Gisbergen into a full-time Cup ride, but he said that's not part of his mindset.

“It would probably certainly help; getting a good result both days and showing I can keep running up front on road courses,” he said. "But I’m not trying to put pressure on myself, you know, saying ‘I have to win to get into Cup next year,’ you know? But certainly a good result will help that, yeah.”

While oval tracks remain a challenge, van Gisbergen has quickly established himself as one of NASCAR's best road racers. He got his first two Xfinity Series wins for Kaulig Racing on road courses at Portland and Sonoma on consecutive weekends last month.

“It’s almost like a holiday on a road race weekend for me,” he said. "I can relax and have some fun.”

  • Associated Categories: Sports, NASCAR News, Top Sports Stories
© Copyright 2024 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.