SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Seven nationalities were represented in Sunday’s (Aug. 13) NASCAR Cup race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (United States, Mexico, Japan, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Germany), which tied last year’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International for the most all time.
Brodie Kostecki of Australia’s Repco Supercars Championship and Kamui Kobayashi of the FIA World Endurance Championship were the two drivers that made their Cup Series debut at Indianapolis, while Shane van Gisbergen returned for his first race since his debut win at the Chicago Street Course.
Van Gisbergen fared the best of the five with a 10th-place finish, and he left the Brickyard as a happy camper.
“I guess everyone’s expectations are high because of Chicago, but top 10 is still awesome,” van Gisbergen said. “Just had a ball with the PROJECT91 guys all week and with Enhance Health coming on board, they’re excited to be onboard the Chevy. I just had a ball.”
Sunday’s race featured just one caution on lap 2, but that didn’t deter the intensity of the drivers all afternoon.
“The race was pretty tough,” van Gisbergen said. “A lot more contact and pushing around and stuff.
“… Everyone was a lot more aggressive than Chicago, but I expected that, and it wasn’t bad stuff or overly aggressive. It’s just how the racing is I expected, and everyone was fair. It was all good.”
Van Gisbergen pulled double duty with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park on Friday (Aug. 11), and his impending switch to NASCAR has gone as well as one could hope.
“I’ve had a smile on my face all weekend,” van Gisbergen said. “That truck race was fun, just constantly learning, and yeah, just getting better and better all week.”
Fellow Supercars driver Kostecki was next with a 22nd-place finish, and he had an impressive drive through the field after starting last due to a crash in qualifying.
“Sort of just started the race and tried to keep the No. 33 Mobile X Chevy out of trouble and did that,” Kostecki said. “Caution came pretty early and with how everyone was sort of racing, I thought there’d be a few more of them, but it sort of went green flag from that point onward. I think we drove up to 14th or 15th with [William Byron].”
Kostecki would’ve challenged for a top 15 or even a top-10 finish, but a late pit stop in anticipation of a caution that never came was what dropped him down the running order.
“And yeah, we just pitted when we heard [that Kyle Busch] was blowing up, and I tried to get a bit lucky with the caution,” Kostecki said. “Didn’t quite work out.”
Like most of the international newcomers to the Cup Series, Kostecki left the race wanting more.
“Yeah, I would love to [come back] if the opportunity comes up again, would love to,” Kostecki said. “Honestly had a fantastic weekend and enjoyed every part of it.
“We’d love to do it again, and just want to thank everyone at Richard Childress Racing for the opportunity, and to work with Austin [Dillon] and Kyle [Busch] was cool as well.”
Kobayashi had a rough day in Cup debut, as he was spun out twice and took the checkered flag one lap down in 33rd.
But the despite the result, he too enjoyed the experience and wants to come back for more.
Rockenfeller finished 24th for a career-best Cup result. He did make storylines at the end of the race, however, as he was a lapped car caught in the midst of the battle between race winner Michael McDowell and runner-up Chase Elliott in the closing laps, as he served as a buffer between the No. 34 and the No. 9 for several laps.
“Didn’t have the best pace, but I think we were decent, especially at the end,” Rockenfeller said. “I had a word with Chase [Elliott], and he was not super happy.
“I just did what I was asked or told to. I tried not to hold anybody up. Michael [McDowell] put the nose in, I let him go straight away. I was fighting with [Ricky Stenhouse Jr.] – if there’s a yellow – to be the one who gets the lap back.
“Yeah, I’m sorry for that, and apologize if I cost [Elliott] there maybe a second in that race.”
With a 37th-place starting spot, Rockenfeller had a dramatic turnaround from practice and qualifying. And with him in Legacy Motor Club’s No. 42 car at Watkins Glen International next, he knows that there’s room for improvement.
“Twenty-fourth is not great, but we came basically from last with a penalty of, I don’t know, 35 seconds or how much you lose,” Rockenfeller said. “So, I think it was halfway decent.
“I think we need to work hard because we were not good enough. I need to work for myself and my driving. I think the race craft was OK, qualifying needs to be way better. Think we need a better car. So, we have a lot of work ahead of us in the next few days and I will focus on that.”
Rockenfeller is the only one of the Indianapolis guest stars that is guaranteed to return this season, as van Gisbergen, Kostecki, Kobayashi and Button haven’t announced plans for any additional 2023 Cup races. However, if Sunday’s post-race reactions were any indication, it certainly won’t be the last race for any of them.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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