Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Shane van Gisbergen Returns to Defend Chicago Street Race Title

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

CHICAGO – This time last year, Shane van Gisbergen was an unknown commodity in the NASCAR world as he was getting set to make his first start in the Cup Series on the Chicago Street Course.

By the end of the weekend, everyone knew his name.

A year later, van Gisbergen comes into Chicago with a target on his back as the entire field will be gunning for him to take down the street course king. With a year of studying the tricks of the trade that made him great around the 12-turn, 2.2-mile street course, it’ll be a more level playing field between the New Zealander and the rest of his competitors.

“It’s special to come back here,” said van Gisbergen. “Being here for a year, yeah it does have more meaning now knowing how tough this series is and how good everyone here is.

“We just had a dream run and we’re ready to try and do the same again. The preparation has been pretty good. Looking out there now, the track looks amazing. The weather looks like it’s going to be pretty good, which I’m excited for. Hopefully it’s a good race weekend for everyone.”

Since his win at Chicago a year ago, van Gisbergen has uprooted his entire life from Down Under, closing out his V8 Supercars career, in which he won three championships, to move to the United States to chase a career in NASCAR.

After a second Cup Series start at Indianapolis last summer, van Gisbergen jumped in with both feet in 2024, running a full-time Xfinity Series campaign along with a number of Cup Series starts.

Thus far in 2024, he has already banked two wins in the Xfinity Series with his Kaulig Racing team, as well as running three Cup races in the first half of the season.

Coming into the weekend at Chicago, he’ll be running double duty in both the Xfinity and Cup Series, trying to score another road course win in Xfinity and keep his perfect streak alive at Chicago in Cup.

With such limited practice time for both series compared to the inaugural event in 2023, van Gisbergen explained that he’ll take as much track time as he can get, even if the cars are vastly different animals.

“The car difference is huge, but laps and reps overcomes that by so far,” he said. “Especially what we’re going to be doing tomorrow morning, the track is going to be completely different from how the Xfinity race finishes. So getting to experience that is going to be a huge head start for Sunday, which is why so many Cup guys are probably in that Saturday race.

“Just get reps; get comfortable with the walls on both sides of the car. This racing is so different from anything we do all year, so yeah I think for sure that doing both classes is going to be more of an advantage than a disadvantage.”

He won’t be the only Cup Series driver running double duty this weekend, with drivers such as Kyle Larson, his Kaulig teammate A.J. Allmendinger, Joey Logano, and others also taking advantage of both series being in Chicago.

Along with the actual track time behind the wheel, van Gisbergen noted that having a year to pour over the data from last year will only serve to make the field stronger as a whole, making his race win defense even tougher.

“There were a lot of guys that were fast; five or six fast guys last year. Especially in qualifying, there were some big laps. This year, there’s just going to be more guys with data; more guys will have better setups with learning what they did last year. I think there’s a big chance that there will be 10 or 15 guys.

“That’s the best thing I find about NASCAR.. it’s not the same people every week. This series is so competitive and so tight, but hopefully it’s us that’s in there, as well.”

Regardless of how tough it may be for him to replicate last year’s result, van Gisbergen noted that he’s up for the challenge of whatever the weekend may bring.

“I’m a pretty quiet guy, so flying under the radar pre-weekend was awesome for me. I just focused on my job and do well at it,” he said.

“I know for sure that there’s probably a target on us. People are going to be looking at us a lot more and try to study what we’re doing. But yeah, just have to keep our heads down and expectations in check. Our prep has been good with all the Kaulig Racing guys, and then obviously some Trackhouse Racing input, as well. So yeah, I feel ready to go and prepared. Just have to go out there and do it.”

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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.