By David Morgan, Associate Editor
CHICAGO – SVG. Three letters that say it all.
Shane Van Gisbergen, a three-time V8 Supercars champion from New Zealand rolled into Chicago for his first NASCAR Cup Series start and took the field to school, capping off a strong weekend by capturing the victory in the inaugural Grant Park 220 on the Chicago Street Course.
“You always dream of it,” Van Gisbergen said of the possibility of winning coming into the weekend. “Thank you so much to the Trackhouse team, Enhance Health, Project91. What an experience in the crowd out here. This was so cool. This is what you dream of. Hopefully I can come and do more.”
Piloting the No. 91 Chevrolet for Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 entry, the Kiwi hit the ground running a day ago with the fastest time in practice and a top-three time in qualifying, all before the race even started.
From the drop of the green flag, he stayed in touch with the leaders, running in the top-three for the majority of the race before getting dropped back when strategy came into play following the halfway point. Despite having a hill to climb from mid-pack, Van Gisbergen kept his cool and methodically started picking cars off as the laps clicked away.
It wasn’t long until he was able to crack the top-10, then the top-five, and soon enough, he was filling the rear-view mirror of the leaders. Ahead of him were three former Cup champions and a hungry driver looking for a Playoff clinching win.
He surpassed Kyle Larson.
Then Kyle Busch.
Then Chase Elliott.
Finally, Justin Haley stood alone as the one driver between him and the lead.
Van Gisbergen was on the cusp of taking the lead from Haley with eight laps remaining before a caution flag flew, slotting him back in second place.
Once the field went back to green with five laps to go in regulation, Van Gisbergen had his opportunity. It took just two corners of the first lap back under green for him to be able to work his way past Haley to ascend to the lead.
Though Haley tried his best to send it into Turn 3 and re-take the lead, Van Gisbergen showed his street racing prowess by backing off a hair and letting Haley fly by him before being able to motor right back by him in the next turn.
“I saw when I was catching him, he was a little bit weak into the Turn 4 braking,” Van Gisbergen explained. “I just let him have it and then crossed to the inside. That was probably one of my car’s strengths was braking there.
“But yeah, he was awesome to race against. The guys told me he’d probably be aggressive at the restarts. I don’t think he’s locking into the Chase they said.”
From there, he was able to hold a steady advantage over Haley and the other leaders, with the remaining laps seemingly only a formality for him to be able to be the first driver in more than 60 years to win in his first start in the series.
However, nothing is ever easy in the Cup Series, especially on road and street courses, as a crash with two laps to go pushed the race into overtime.
In theory, the leaders would have another shot to take down Van Gisbergen, but it was no contest once the green flag flew for the final time as the No. 91 Chevrolet kept all of them in his rear-view and walked away with the win.
Haley finished the race in second-place, followed by Elliott, Larson, and Busch rounding out the top-five.
Afterwards, all of them had nothing but positives about the drive that Van Gisbergen was able to put together throughout the day.
“It was so fun to watch from my view,” Larson said. “When he got to my back bumper, I felt like I pieced together a really good section and I was like, I thought for sure I’d look in the mirror and I was going to be like two car lengths or something in front of him, and he was glued to my back bumper and I was like, holy shit, this guy is flying.
“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 that he could make into 2 was really neat to see, and then the pass that he had for the lead — I thought their battle for the lead was great.
“It was just — it was sick. It was awesome.
“He put on a show and it was cool to see, and I think when a guy like that can come in and kick your ass at your own game, it shows that we all have room to improve.”