Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Chicago: Shane van Gisbergen Win May Save NASCAR Street Racing

What Happened?

Shane van Gisbergen shocked the world by winning the first-ever NASCAR Cup Series street race on the Chicago street course on Sunday, July 2. The New Zealand native outpaced the rest of the top-five finishers Justin Haley, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch, respectively.

The three-time Australian V8 Supercars champion is the only driver in the modern NASCAR era (since 1972) to win in his first Cup Series start and the first to do it since 1963.

See also
Shane van Gisbergen Shocks the World with NASCAR Chicago Street Race Win

But What Really Happened?

A surprise winner of a chaotic race in front of an enthralled attendance saved the inaugural Chicago street race from certain disaster and, perhaps, the future of NASCAR street racing as a whole.

With a quiet, but fun Saturday morning, the weekend had started off exactly the way NASCAR wanted – with an enjoyable atmosphere that got local fans talking and, most importantly, curious.

But the good times didn’t last long. They came to a halt as fast as a crash of lightning.

When NASCAR red flagged the Xfinity Series race for lightning in the area, the momentum it had built for the weekend was red flagged with it. When the rain picked up and forced postponement of the race to Sunday morning, the entire industry could feel the rain cloud directly over its head. For a first-time NASCAR race attendee, a rain cancellation is a serious bummer – maybe one that could turn somebody away from the sport entirely.

And for a bit, it only got worse.

Because of flooding, NASCAR decided not to resume the Xfinity race even though the event had not reached the halfway point. NXS teams that had spent thousands of dollars in hotel rooms and other services for the extra night were downright livid.

To make matters worse, both headlining concerts for the weekend were canceled as a result of poor weather.

With the Xfinity field and fans alike already upset with NASCAR, the street course dream was perhaps dead before it could even begin. The only thing that could save it? A memorable Cup race.

And they for sure got one.

It didn’t start off pretty. Right from lap 1, there were plenty of cars veering into the tire barriers and literally spinning their wheels trying to get out of the rubber prison to no avail. Much of the race went exactly how you expected a NASCAR race in the rain to go.

Yet there was passing. Real passing. Not just cars passing other cars while pitting, but side-by-side racing and banging into the corners fighting for position. Sometimes, it even ended without a car in the wall.

Like it or not, that’s entertaining, and the locals started to eat it up. You could hear it.

Some might argue those were groans and not cheers. There may be partial truth to that.

But absolutely nobody heard any groaning when the race’s upset winner finally crossed the finish line.

Who Stood Out?

Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks looks like a genius right now – and one NASCAR should be thanking.

The Trackhouse Project 91 car was meant to be a fun way of introducing international drivers into the sport by showcasing their talents on road courses. Did anybody expect any of them to win? If you asked sports bet-keepers, a driver that has never driven a stock car in his life picking up the wheel and beating the world’s best NASCAR drivers is a fat chance.

But nobody told van Gisbergen that.

Anybody that watched track activities Saturday knew the No. 91 Chevrolet was going to be fast after the supercar racer was quickest in practice and qualified third for the race. That said, most knew actually winning would still take a large amount of luck.

But there was no such luck needed for van Gisbergen. He simply took the NASCAR field to school.

After he and a majority of the leaders pitted for what was to be their last stop on lap 46, NASCAR made the late call to shorten the event to only 75 laps instead of the original 100 because of encroaching darkness hours.

The decision put the No. 91, which was now outside the top 15 with only 25 laps to go, in a desperate position along with many other former leaders.

But instead of understandably becoming upset and yelling on the radio like many others, van Gisbergen simply started passing cars.

With an additional three more restarts slowing down the race, the Project 91 car drove from what was near certain defeat in mid-pack right into the lead – all while making it look easy.

Even better, van Gisbergen did it with five laps to go. He had time to spare.

Even through an additional restart in overtime, van Gisbergen showed to be the class of the field through most of the weekend. Furthermore, the Kiwi gave the Chicago crowd that had been through rain, lightning and disappointment both a climactic and memorable finish.

There are a number of reasons fans were excited by the afternoon’s street race after what was an abysmal Sunday morning. But van Gisbergen’s win was the cherry on top that has many of them wanting to return next year.

If there is a next year.

Who Fell Flat?

At one point during practice Saturday, five of the field’s six Toyotas were in the top six fastest lap times. It was clear the manufacturer had been doing its homework.

Yet it still failed the exam.

After qualifying three cars in the top five, including winning the pole with Denny Hamlin, only one Toyota managed to finish in the top 10 (Ty Gibbs). In fact, when Sunday was all said and done, Gibbs was the only Toyota driver to not end up in the barriers at one point or another.

It started off well at first. Tyler Reddick took the lead from Hamlin into turn 1 and led the first eight laps.

Within those eight circuits, however, Hamlin found himself sliding into the barriers and never recovered for the rest of the event, finishing 11th.

Reddick still remained one of the cars to beat, running second and third in stages one and two. Martin Truex Jr. also flashed some speed and finished fourth and eighth in those stages.

However, both of them and fellow Toyota driver Bubba Wallace all ended up in the barrier and were the cause of all the race’s final three caution flags. All three drivers wound up finishing 28th or worse.

But no Toyota driver had a more disappointing finish than Christopher Bell.

The driver of the No. 20 not only led the most laps on Sunday (37) but he also swept both stage wins – the first of his season. However, a near-perfect day was ruined when NASCAR made the call to shorten the event to 75 laps.

Bell, like van Gisbergen, had only just pitted before the call was made and now had a number of cars ahead of him that no longer needed to do one more pit stop.

Unlike van Gisbergen, Bell never recovered. He spun within the final 25 laps and only rebounded to finish 18th. One of the day’s fastest drivers was understandably upset.

As were many other Toyota team members.

See also
Shortened Distance Ruins Several Drivers' Shot at Win

Better Than Last Time?

What last time?

When it comes to statistics and analyzing lead changes for comparison, there’s really nothing comparable to a race like this one, at least not right now.

However, there will certainly be many that will want to compare the Chicago street race with the event it replaced on the series’ schedule: Road America.

Many of you will want the Elkhart Lake circuit to return to the Cup Series calendar, but let’s not forget why NASCAR went to the Chicago streets in the first place – to capture a new audience.

And it looks like it may have worked.

Not only that, but a foreigner coming over and winning in only his first-ever NASCAR start may even attract the eye of more well-known international talent looking to expand their racing horizons.

There was less chaos in last year’s race in Wisconsin and maybe a little less embarrassment. Not to mention, there is a passionate racing fanbase that exists who did not disappoint NASCAR leaders when it came to race attendance. For that, it’s an absolute shame that it had to be taken off the calendar.

But none of that will propel the sport into new markets. Like many other races NASCAR already has on the calendar, it only celebrates the ones the sport already has.

Sunday’s Chicago street race has given NASCAR new momentum moving forward, not only on a national scale but internationally as well.

That’s something Road America simply could never do.

Paint Scheme of the Race

This weekend, NASCAR added to the already star-studded list of sports organizations who have a huge following in Chicago. It would make sense for a race team to pay homage to one of those storied sports organizations.

Spire Motorsports was more than ready to step up to the plate.

This weekend, Ty Dillon and Spire adorned their No. 77 Chevrolet with the Chicago White Sox baseball team’s colors while racing in its backyard.

The classic black-and-white colors highlighted a paint scheme that was likely appreciated by some of the most diehard fans in sports this weekend. It also showed some of the connection the sport attempted to make with the local community.

What’s Next?

Stock cars return to the southeast for some summer superspeedway night racing.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second race of the season on the 1.5-mile track. Qualifying for the Quaker State 400 will be live on Saturday, July 8 at 5:35 p.m. ET with the race being televised live on Sunday, July 9 at 7 p.m. ET on USA Network.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share this article

9 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bill B

The race was entertaining in the same way as “Smokey And The Bandit” or “The Blues Brothers” movies were. As a race it was a joke. No matter how much NASCAR or the media claims it was great race and weekend was successful, it is the drivers’ opinions that matter most. From what I’ve read most of them weren’t too happy.

The X-fin race cut short before it was an official race. The Cup race run with a wet track and a demolition derby atmosphere, in addition to cutting the race short by one-quarter of the advertised length. Of the 75 laps run, nearly one-third were under caution. And you want to call that a successful race? OK, but just because you say it is, doesn’t make it so.

At least we got to see Hamlin choke and wreck himself early in the race and then Dillon over-drive so hard that he wrecked himself.

Carl D.

I 100% agree. Some of the problems can be attributed to the weather. I think 5pm is too late to start a race, especially where there is no track lights, but the weather made it impossible to start the cup race any sooner. The finish was pretty good, though.

I’ve read enough of your comments to know we like and dislike many of the same drivers. Poor Denny; poor Austin Dillon 😁.

Bill B

Yeah, what’s with the 5:00 start time to begin with? Totally stupid since it was obvious they did not want to carry over on Monday. In this case it wouldn’t have mattered because it rained most of the day in record fashion, but come on man…. common sense.

Janice

I loved the massive wreck by the “best racers” in the sport. it reminded me how how the idiots here in Atlanta can’t drive on 285 especially in the rain.

every new venue has a good first race. heard there were lots of tickets given away.

now all the hype can stop. forecast for. ams
yep rain. of course forecast will change.

Kevin in SoCal

Crashes are nothing new for any racing event. The wet track added to it. Not even the best racers are that good.

Jill P

I hope the Xfinity teams get reimbursed by NASCAR for the extra expenses they incurred for staying overnight for nothing.

Carl D.

Yeah
 that’ll happen


TiminPayson

While Bell, Hamlin et all were crying on the radio about the shortened race SVG simply raced. Just an old fashioned ass wuppin and Bell, Truex, and Hamlin supplied the ass.

Thunder

I’m a lifelong fan and a very harsh critic of the sport at times. That said this race ended up maybe being the most entertaining thing I’ve seen since Cale rammed his forehead over and over into the Allison brothers’ fists!