Race Weekend Central

Fire on Fridays: No Shane van Gisbergen in the All-Star Race Is Asinine

July 2, 2023. That was the day that Shane van Gisbergen came in and whooped the NASCAR Cup Series field on his debut.

Everyone remembers van Gisbergen’s triumph at the Chicago street course last season for many reasons. For one, it was a monumental moment. For an Australian V8 Supercars driver to come in and show up the NASCAR regulars, in his first start, at the first street race in Cup Series history, would’ve been unthinkable just a year prior.

Another reason van Gisbergen’s win was so memorable was because of the fact that not only did he prove parity was possible in the Next Gen (something that has since fallen off), but he also proved that stars from other racing series could come over and perform well given the right equipment.

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Trackhouse Racing’s PROJECT91 car, for which van Gisbergen drove, had made just two starts in its history prior to the Kiwi stepping behind the wheel, both with Kimi Raikkonen. The ride was designed for champions in other motorsports (which van Gisbergen and Raikkonen both are) to have easier access to compete in a Cup Series race.

While PROJECT91 has largely fallen dormant, as the team switched its focus to putting van Gisbergen in a developmental project for 2024, his Chicago triumph has encouraged other teams to field other motorsports champions. Since van Gisbergen’s win, Kamui Kobayashi, Brodie Kostecki,and now Cam Waters have decided to jump in a NASCAR racecar (or in Waters’ case, a truck) to test the NASCAR pool. That’s in addition to drivers like Conor Daly, Mike Rockenfeller, Jordan Taylor, Jenson Button, Daniil Kvyat and Marco Andretti trying their hands at NASCAR in some capacity since 2022.

Finally, van Gisbergen’s win was important to the grand scope of NASCAR. Because of van Gisbergen’s success as a Supercars champion, his ability to come to America and win a Cup Series race right out of the gate helped reintroduce NASCAR on a global scale. To this day, New Zealanders and those within the Repco Supercars paddock tune in to NASCAR races to see their former champion rough it up with the Americans.

For the NASCAR faithful, one little bonus to seeing van Gisbergen win at Chicago was the fact that the New Zealander was now locked into the 2024 NASCAR All-Star Race. While the rules for the All-Star Race change seemingly every year, the general constant was that any driver, regardless of full- or part-time status, that wins a race in the year prior was eligible to compete for $1 million.

Such is the case this year. Van Gisbergen is able to compete at the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway for a chance at $1,685,104.52 in New Zealand currency (one New Zealand dollar is equivalent to 59 cents in US currency). While his eligibility would have been more special had he not signed a developmental deal that includes a full-time Xfinity Series campaign this season, it still is incredible to see van Gisbergen locked into the All-Star Race after one start.

The problem is … he won’t compete in the All-Star Race.

According to RACER Magazine, van Gisbergen will miss out on a chance to compete in the All-Star Race due to neither Trackhouse nor Kaulig Racing (van Gisbergen’s team in the Xfinity and Cup Series this season) fielding a car for him.

Both of Trackhouse’s cars are locked into the race, as Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez have each won a race since the start of 2023. Kaulig Racing, meanwhile, has one car competing in the All-Star Open (the No. 31 driven full-time by Daniel Hemric), and its rotational No. 16 will be driven in the main event by AJ Allmendinger, whose win late in 2023 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL secured his eligibility.

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While it’s an understandable situation for Trackhouse and Kaulig, it’s simultaneously unacceptable. Van Gisbergen arguably made NASCAR relevant in international media again (though Chastain’s Hail Melon a year prior probably kickstarted that) and took the NASCAR world by storm in doing so. One could pose the argument that if van Gisbergen doesn’t win Chicago, he doesn’t have the developmental deal he currently has. It’s only right to put him in the All-Star Race.

Both Trackhouse and Kaulig have had experience fielding additional cars in the past. Trackhouse with the aforementioned PROJECT91, while Kaulig has entered the No. 13 as recent as this season at Circuit of the Americas — with van Gisbergen driving the No. 16, Allmendinger stepped into the No. 13.

I’m sure there’s a financial reason for both teams refusing to enter a third car. Entering a non-chartered car in a race that probably only pays pennies unless you win is likely a big reason. Plus, maybe they don’t want to trot all the resources for a third car out to North Wilkesboro just for an exhibition event.

But there still ought to be some sort of remedy. For example, does Hemric really need to compete in the No. 31 for the All-Star Race? The odds are not in his favor to make the main event, even through the Open or the fan vote. Why not let van Gisbergen behind the wheel just for a one-off?

Or why does Allmendinger get the No. 16 seat over van Gisbergen?

Allmendinger competes full-time in the Xfinity Series as a teammate to van Gisbergen. While Allmendinger did compete full-time in Cup in 2023, why is he any more qualified to drive the car than van Gisbergen? It’s not a knock on Allmendinger by any means, it’d just be interesting to know what went into the decision process to put one in the car over the other.

(Though I’d bet Allmendinger got the nod as an in-house Kaulig driver, while van Gisbergen is a Trackhouse driver who is only driving for Kaulig.)

Van Gisbergen’s fellow Trackhouse developmental driver Zane Smith has had a rookie season from hell in Spire Motorsports’ brand new third entry. Even Smith could have taken the week off to regroup for the Coca-Cola 600 and let van Gisbergen take the wheel for a one-off.

Spire is also used to situations of part-time drivers qualifying for the All-Star Race. After Justin Haley‘s shock win in the summer race at Daytona International Speedway in 2019, Spire still entered him in the All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2020, despite its limited resources and Haley’s partial schedule.

Surely Spire could understand the situation better than most, given it’s All-Star past. Give Smith the boot for a week, let him regroup his season and give the Kiwi (and the team) an automatic berth into the All-Star Race.

Other options were available too. It had been known for a while that Kyle Larson would likely need a driver on standby for the weekend while he attempts to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. While Kevin Harvick was announced as the standby, it could have easily been van Gisbergen. He’s a Chevrolet driver, so there’d be no conflict of interest.

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And in the event Larson goes far enough in Indy qualifying to where he can’t make it back for the race, having van Gisbergen driving would mean that the No. 5 team would still be able to compete in the main event without having to go through the Open like it will if Harvick ends up racing.

Perhaps one of the biggest things that could be a deterrent to putting van Gisbergen behind the wheel would be sponsorship. But is sponsorship really an issue for van Gisbergen of all people? HIs win at Chicago likely made him a hot-ticket driver for sponsorship. Worldwide Express, Wendy’s and WeatherTech (lots of ‘W’ sponsors, I just realized) have adorned a van Gisbergen vehicle this season, to go along with his sponsor Enhance Health, which was on van Gisbergen’s No. 91 in victory lane at Chicago.

You mean to tell me not one of those sponsors wanted to jump on board for a race where the Kiwi has a shot at $1 million? Surely one of them would have considered it with a driver as talented as van Gisbergen.

Yes, some of the scenarios proposed were never feasible from the start; for example, there’s a lot of logistics to go through should a full-time driver like Hemric or Smith get booted for just a week. However, it’s nothing short of asinine to leave van Gisbergen, of all drivers, out of one of the biggest races of the year.

At the very least, North Wilkesboro is another short track to help van Gisbergen gain experience. A free testing session with no points on the line could have probably helped him greatly. But alas, that will not be the case.

Maybe there’s a strategic reason that van Gisbergen will not compete in the All-Star Race. Maybe the whole thing is blown out of proportion. Maybe I’m overreacting to something that, in actuality, is small in the grand scheme of NASCAR.

But it just seems like an injustice for the man who captured one of the most historic and important wins in NASCAR history to be kept out of a race he qualified for — and earned the right to race in — over easily fixable reasons.

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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Marshall

Booting a healthy driver from their ride for the All-Star open would probably violate their contract. Starting Daniel Hemric or Zane Smith in the All-Star Open might be less interesting than starting van Ginsbergen in the main event, but those drivers and their sponsors probably have a big say in when they get to drive and when they won’t be sidelined. Obviously I don’t know the details but Hemric or Smith’s results being poor so far doesn’t justify them not getting a chance to race at North Wilkesboro, particularly in the underdog race where they have the best chance to make a splash. To me the blame for this is entirely on Trackhouse for not figuring out how to set him up with the team that he drove to a win- clearly they are signaling that they don’t value the All Star race and would prefer a week off.

DoninAjax

Is that another NA$CAR “rule”?

wildcatsfan2016

Well that’s the breaks sometimes. I don’t know why one of the teams wouldn’t field a car for him either but $$ may be too tight these days.

Tony

Agree 100%. Give the man a car! We all might be surprised…again.

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