Race Weekend Central

Only Yesterday: Shane van Gisbergen Is 1st Driver in 60 Years To Win in 1st Try

Shane van Gisbergen’s shocking but hard-fought NASCAR Cup Series win on Sunday (July 2) at the Chicago street course was popular, not just in the United States, but also internationally.

Compounding van Gisbergen’s triumph was the fact that an overwhelming majority of fans who attended the race were witnessing NASCAR for the first time.

But even most of NASCAR’s diehard fans of today weren’t born the last time someone accomplished what SVG did, which is win in his first career start in the Cup Series.

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Up to Speed: Which Had the Bigger Win, Shane Van Gisbergen or NASCAR?

Not only have there only been just seven drivers to win in their first start, but the last time that happened in Cup history was way back in 1963. Another wild stat is that each driver on this list only has one career win: their first start. Let’s take a look at each of them.

Jim Roper – Charlotte Speedway, 1949

Somebody’s got to win the first-ever NASCAR race, and Roper was the lucky one to do so. Roper won at the now-defunct Charlotte Speedway in 1949 following the disqualification of original race winner Glenn Dunaway for failing post-race inspection.

Roper only completed in one other NASCAR race in his career: also in 1949, at Occoneechee Speedway in the third race of the season.

Jack White – Hamburg Speedway, 1949

In NASCAR’s inaugural Strictly Stock season, it was easy to win your first start as not many races had been run. In the fifth race of the 1949 season, White entered and won at Hamburg Speedway, which is now the site of the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, New York.

White competed in 11 more races until 1951. His last race was also at Hamburg.

Harold Kite – Daytona Beach and Road Course, 1950

Kite’s only career win came in his first start at the Daytona Beach and Road Course in 1950, holding off defending champion Red Byron to win by nearly a minute. Kite was driving for himself, and that car that he owned actually opened the season with two wins: Kite at Daytona and Tim Flock at the next race at Charlotte.

Kite made four more starts over the course of 1950 and 1951. He returned in 1955 and 1956, making just three starts. After seemingly leaving the sport for good, Kite returned to NASCAR in 1965 to compete at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

In his nine career starts, Kite was only able to score one more top 10, and he never replicated his success from his first appearance.

Leon Sales – North Wilkesboro Speedway, 1950

Sales is the first driver on this list to have his first career win in his first career start come at a track that still exists today. Sales qualified 11th at North Wilkesboro Speedway and took the lead from Jack Smith with just eight laps to go to win in his first career start. Sales won for owner Hubert Westmorland in the same car that Johnny Mantz had driven to win the inaugural Southern 500 earlier that month.

Sales made seven more starts and actually gained two more top 10s, but was never able to reach victory lane again.

Marvin Burke – Oakland Coliseum, 1951

Technically speaking, Burke is the most successful driver in NASCAR history in terms of win percentage. Not only did he win in his first start at the Oakland Coliseum in 1951, but it turned out to be his only career start in NASCAR.

Burke has a 100% win percentage, which has been matched by no one else — well, until van Gisbergen made history at Chicago. However, with van Gisbergen expressing interest in coming to NASCAR full time, Burke could return to being the only driver with a 100% win rate.

Johnny Rutherford – Daytona International Speedway, 1963

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner was the last driver before van Gisbergen to win in his first start. Surprisingly, it took 12 years since Burke’s win for another driver to win his first start.

Rutherford won his Duel race for the Daytona 500, and since the Duels were considered official points races in 1963, Rutherford is officially credited with one career NASCAR win. He won driving for the legendary Smokey Yunick. Rutherford ran 35 races between 1963-88 and racked up five top 10s, but never again reached victory lane.

It has been 60 years since a driver won in their first career start, but several people have won in their second start of late, including Jamie McMurray and Trevor Bayne. Justin Haley won in his third career start in 2019.

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Shortened Distance Ruins Several Drivers' Shot at Win

And van Gisbergen didn’t back into his win either — he was caught on the wrong strategy when NASCAR shortened the race. That forced van Gisbergen to pit with the leaders while Haley, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott, who had pitted earlier, went to the front. van Gisbergen drove from outside the top 15 to the win despite being caught in the parking-lot accident on lap 50.

van Gisbergen may have opportunities to win a NASCAR race in the future and become the first driver who has won in his first career race to win more than one race. But he will always be a part of an exclusive list of people who won in their first start and put the entire world on notice.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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