Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Mutual Respect Abound Between van Gisbergen and Larson in Chicago

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

CHICAGO – Kyle Larson and Shane van Gisbergen are two of the best in the business when it comes to road course racing in NASCAR and this weekend in Chicago are putting on a clinic for the rest of the field when it comes to racing hard, but respectful around the tight confines of a street course.

Since van Gisbergen shocked the NASCAR world with his win at the inaugural Chicago Street Race a year ago, drivers have been astonished with the way he was able to drive around the 12-turn, 2.2-mile street course with such precision on his way to the victory.

Larson in particular, who was amazed with the move van Gisbergen pulled on Justin Haley to win last year in Chicago, could still not stop talking about the move a year later and made it a point in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race to try and learn as much as he could from him in preparation for Sunday’s Cup Series race.

The two were no doubt the class of the field in the Xfinity Series, trading the lead back and forth throughout the first half of the race in a hard, but respectful manner, leading van Gisbergen to throw out the thumbs up out of his window at one point during their battle to acknowledge Larson.

“I was having a blast,” Larson said. “I felt like, obviously I wanted to win today, but I wanted to learn more than anything and I wanted to get to battle with him, because he’s just really good at creating shapes and angles and passing. That was an objective of mine and the first opportunity I got, I wanted to get racing ’cause I just didn’t know if you’d ever have another opportunity to race with him.

“My car seemed to be a little bit better than his for maybe a lap or two, which helped me, get by him and then be able to protect and stuff. But he was so much better than me. He was just being patient and playing with me. I think so. But it was good fun and probably made for great TV. The whole race was really exciting, I thought.”

With now multiple races on the Chicago layout under his belt, Larson added that the track time from Saturday, getting to race toe-to-toe with the likes of van Gisbergen and others has only added to his confidence for Sunday’s main event.

“Whether it’s him or anybody else, hopefully, battling, I feel I’ll be more confident to pull moves tomorrow, but he’s just really good and he doesn’t ever touch anybody to get by them, and that’s rare to see,” Larson added. “So, it’s fun racing with a guy like that and kind of seeing it out your windshield too, as he is picking his way to the front is pretty neat.”

Larson also explained how getting to race against a driver of Shane’s caliber on road and street courses helps not only him, but the entire field elevate their game on these types of tracks.

“I look at it as a great opportunity,” Larson said. “Like we all recognize that he’s the best on a road course as well. I appreciate the opportunity to learn like in race with him. Whether he’s winning or not, I feel like he’s helping us all get better, which is pretty, pretty cool.”

Meanwhile, van Gisbergen was not shy about heaping the praise right back on Larson after their battle on Saturday. He noted that while he may be one of the best when it comes to road and street courses, he still has much to learn on the ovals, so the ability to learn from each other goes both ways.

“As I say all the time, it’s the opposite on the ovals, you know? He’s been the class today as well pace wise and especially in the Cup car, they’re much better than last year through a few sectors where I was good last year, people were really close,” van Gisbergen said.

“But yeah, I had a blast racing with them. We went side by side through places I never thought you’d get two big American V8’s, but it was pretty cool.”

He added that getting to watch Larson and race side-by-side with him in both the Xfinity Series and Cup Series on the Chicago circuit has allowed him to add to his already impressive repertoire on road and street courses, giving him some new ideas on how to navigate the treacherous course even more efficiently than he already does.

“I was learning off him too. Some of his techniques and lines and car placement was very, very different to mine,” van Gisbergen said. And I adapted a bit to him, especially Turn 6, how he would brake and turn was amazing how he got the to rotate. And I thought, oh, my car doesn’t have enough front grip. And then when I adapted to what he was doing, my car was fixed. So, I learned a lot as well.

“When you’re racing around guys like that, you’re constantly sort of feeding each other and the amount we were swapping back and forth, we probably elevated each other a bit for [Sunday].”

When it comes to Sunday’s race, both drivers will no doubt be some of the favorites to take home the trophy, whether its van Gisbergen keeping his Chicago streak alive or Larson adding yet another win to his already stacked trophy case.

Regardless, van Gisbergen noted that he will continue to race respectfully, mindful of the regular season coming toward its end,  but will still be racing with just as much tenacity as he displayed in this race last year.

“I think I should have the same mindset as last year, right? I want to come in and do well for myself. I still have to get results and do well to get myself in a Cup seat next year, right? So, I want to come in and do the best I can, but I also, you know, am respectful that it’s almost crunch time for everyone.

“There’s a lot of people close to the cut line trying to get wins to get in. So, I’m gonna race everyone with respect and not do anything stupid. But I’m also gonna try win the race for my team. There’s been so many people work hard on this car.

“I’m not gonna lay over for anyone, but I don’t want to get involved in any shit tomorrow ’cause everyone’s got their championship to worry about.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.