Race Weekend Central

Shane Van Gisbergen Impresses in Day 1 at Chicago Street Course

CHICAGO – Shane van Gisbergen thought he would take his first official laps in the NASCAR Cup Series a little “easy.”

Makes sense. He and his other Cup competitors had never been on the 12 turn, 2.2-mile course and Saturday was its first day of full existence.

Plus, the New Zealand native and Australian Supercar champion was in a Cup car for just the second time in about a week.

Then one driver, van Gisbergen thought it was Austin Dillon, blew his doors off with a dive bomb early on.

“Everyone was just flat out,” the 34-year-old driver said after he qualified third for Sunday’s (July 2) Grant Park 220. “It was like a full race.”

Van Gisbergen, a 79-time Supercar winner, is the second driver who has taken part in Trackhouse Racing’s Project91, following former Formula 1 champion Kimi Raikkonen.

Before Saturday, van Gisbergen had gotten track time in a Cup car just once in a brief test on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.

“I felt comfortable and practice being good this week, we’ve done a lot of simulator and data study watching on boards,” van Gisbergen said. “Like I’ve done as much prep as I can.”

Even then, van Gisbergen called the Chicago street course “crazy” after a 50-minute practice session and two rounds of qualifying.

“I’ve never driven a street track so bumpy and pretty tough,” he added.

After being dive bombed by Dillon, the Trackhouse Racing driver “tried to find my own piece of track and build up at my own pace.”

It worked.

By the end of practice van Gisbergen had posted the fastest single lap at 88.572 mph, three tenths faster than eventual pole-sitter Denny Hamlin.

See also
Through The Gears: Chicago Betting Preview

One highlight of practice was van Gisbergen swapping the top spot on the speed chart back and forth with another road course ringer, former Formula 1 champion Jenson Button.

Button posted the third best practice speed and eventually qualified eighth.

Van Gisbergen is still working on getting comfortable with the car.

“I’m just learning and trying to get better every lap without making too many mistakes,” he said.

One drastic change from the Supercar he drives full-time is a Cup car requires him to drive on the left side of the cockpit.

“That’s the hardest thing,” van Gisbergen said. “And just the wall where the fence is – I ended up hitting the wall at the end with the right front, so just misjudging the wall because the whole car is on the other side. That’s probably the most difficult thing.”

Also, Sunday’s race will be much longer – 220 miles – compared to what he’s used to on the Supercar circuit.

“I think this is 350 kilometers (217 miles) and our longest is 250 kilometers (155 miles),” van Gisbergen said.

When asked about how aggressive he plans to be knowing how competitive his No. 91 Chevrolet is, van Gisbergen made clear he wants to be as “respectful” as possible given he’s racing against drivers vying for a championship.

“So in Australia we have rules on what we can do,” Van Gisbergen said. “We can’t just crash someone into the fence. So, I’m gonna be respectful and race as clean as I can. And hopefully everyone’s nice to me, too.”

2023 is Daniel McFadin’s 10th year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his third year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can be found at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and SpeedSport.com. 

The podcast version of “Dropping the Hammer” is presented by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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Chase Elliot is really struggling.

Pat S

He’s very impressive to say the least! Wouldnt mind seeing him stink up the show at all.

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