How NASCAR’s Chicago winner broke a 60-year record

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

History was made in two categories Sunday at the soggy but ultimately triumphant Grant Park 200 NASCAR Cup race, the first true street race in the Cup series’ 75-year history.

You only have to go back 60 years for the other historical nugget: No NASCAR Cup driver has won his first race since 1963, when IndyCar great Johnny Rutherford won his first time out at the Daytona 500. That changed when New Zealand’s Shane Van Gisbergen handily won the Grant Park 200 in a car that Trackhouse Racing, which fields cars for Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain, occasionally hauls out of mothballs to offer up to drivers from other series, such as they did earlier this year for Formula 1’s Kimi Räikkönen at the Circuit of the Americas road course in Austin, Texas.

NASCAR Cup Series Grant Park racing action
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Speaking of COTA, if you were there in 2013 for the Australian V8 Supercars race—vehicles that were formerly known as Australian Touring Cars—you saw Van Gisbergen, who was a V8 Supercars star even then. He has won 80 races in cars that have 650-horsepower V-8s and are inarguably closer to the current, “next-gen” Cup cars presently in use than any other type of race car.

NASCAR Cup Series Grant Park 220 winner
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The similarities to NASCAR go beyond the cars themselves. The 12-event V8 Supercar schedule is heavy on road courses and street circuits, so series veteran Van Gisbergen was unfazed by NASCAR’s 2.2-mile circuit in downtown Chicago. The Australian series usually runs shorter races: 2013’s V8 Supercar race at COTA, the Austin 400, consisted of four separate, 100-kilometer springs. Jamie Whincup, driving a GM Holden Commodore, the same car Van Gisbergen was driving, won three of the four races, and Fabian Coulthard the fourth. Using that same multiple-race format for each event, the 2013 schedule for the V8 Supercar series actually consisted of 36 races. Van Gisenbergen has gotten his reps in.

NASCAR Cup Series Grant Park winner shane van gisbergen
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

I was lucky enough to snag a ride in the right seat of a Jack Daniels–sponsored Nissan Altima, whose V-8 engine was based on the one in the Nissan Titan truck. The driving experience was an eye-opener: The Nissan was perhaps the most stiffly sprung car I’ve ever been in. Driver Rick Kelly hit every curb on the shortened COTA course at full speed, lofting the car onto two wheels each time. “You have to be incredibly sore after four races,” I told him. “You get used to it,” he replied.

Still, as I wrote then, “After four 100-km races this weekend, Kelly—no matter how good a shape he is in—will need a nice hot bath and a massage.”

The car also had a six-speed, $25,000 Albins sequential transmission, previewing another recent addition to the next-gen Cup car. Van Gisbergen has been driving a sequential transmission for years.

Unfortunately, hardly anyone came to the V8 Supercars race at COTA, and the track and the series parted ways.

Shane Van Gisbergen portrait
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Bottom line: Van Gisbergen has been training for years to drive a Cup car on a street circuit in the rain. On Sunday, the TV showed him to be as modest and affable as I remember him from 2013. His win is still stunning; his part-time crew wasn’t the fastest, and he was driving on the wrong side of the car, shifting with the wrong hand. People—no matter what their background—just don’t show up and win a NASCAR Cup race.

At least not in the last 60 years.

Shane Van Gisbergen, driver of the #91 Enhance Health Chevrolet NASCAR Cup Series Grant Park
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images




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    One he was a great driver and I will not take anything away from that. But he also benefitted by a shorten race and also a street track that few could pass on and often just bottle necked.

    I hope NASCAR skips this next year and moves this race to a real road course like Mid Ohio.

    The only benefit from the shortened race was to the rest of the cars as they would have been farther behind. There was plenty of passing but the regulars do the bump-and-pass while he was just out-braking everybody.

    The dood gave a friggin’ CLINIC on how to drive the taxi’s to the front, passing at will WITHOUT smashin’ their way through. It was a master class to watch, he was on fire.

    Loved this race and I haven’t watched NASCAR for a long time. Ditch all those boring mile and a half ovals for more street races.

    I know the moon shine runner’s did more than turn left and go fast. From a spectators view, I call that fun racing.

    I went to a NASCAR race at the Glenn a few years ago. Normally I avoid anything to do with NASCAR – but because I love road races, I went and had a great weekend. You know what, though? Very few of the regular drivers were there. Some were, and I certainly give them credit. A lot of the seats were filled by TransAm/LeMans/Sports-car types. Why? because these are the folks who understand the concept of down-shifting, using the brakes, and turning right. I don’t mean to take anything away from this winning driver – I’m sure he is super-talented and it was certainly no mistake that he got this drive. I’m just saying that it is understandable that one of the regular “floor it and turn left” guys didn’t win…

    What a mess with all the rain prior to the race but glad they got it going. Would have been nice to have seen them racing down roads I’ve sped down myself.

    I’m a fan of the Aussie series and my wife and I flew down from Canada for the Austin 400. We were seated at turn one. I don’t know how many Americans were around us but man, there were a hell of a lot of Aussies. Families that planned a U.S. Vacation around that race. They like their racing and they can sure put back the beer. We had a great time with them. Too bad that it was only a one-off.

    It seemed they only mentioned he had 16 laps newer tires just once. Taking nothing away from his win but that is A huge help.

    The front dozen cars came in early. Everybody else had tires equal to the winner. He just knew how to drive a street course better than the regulars.

    He is a fantastic driver, period. The current NexGen car is made for road racing better than any previous NASCAR car. In fact, it used to be back in the day you could count on the fingers of one hand how many drivers would win 80% of the races. No more. So far at the halfway point of the season 14 different drivers have won a Cup race. SVG’s win is a testament to how level the playing field is now. There are road race experts like AJ Almandinger giving the other drivers fits. (He’s won more NASCAR road races than anyone except maybe Jeff Gordon.)

    Quit trying to compare road races to the Chicago street race. You don’t have concrete abutments 12” from your track in road races. NASCAR has changed incredibly in the last couple of years. There are many more road races. The first Bristol race is now a dirt track race. The clash was in the Los Angeles Coliseum. North Wilksboro was revamped and reopened for the all star race this year.

    NASCAR is DIFFERENT now. They wised up to there being too many ovals. (Even the revered Charlotte Motor Speedway has a built in road racing type hybrid track.) Either next year or in 2025 you will see a race in Montreal and possibly Mexico.

    It ain’t a “good ole boys “ sport anymore.

    Let’s be clear, Johnny Rutherford won the second of the Twin 100’s , not the Daytona 500, which was won by Tiny Lund who filled in for Marvin Panch.

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