Home » Shane van Gisbergen, A Quiet Man From New Zealand, Kicked NASCAR’s Ass On His Very First Try

Shane van Gisbergen, A Quiet Man From New Zealand, Kicked NASCAR’s Ass On His Very First Try

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In one of the most surprising motorsports outcomes in recent memory, New Zealand’s Shane van Gisbergen showed up in Chicago this weekend, climbed into a stock car for his first ever NASCAR race, and won the whole damn thing. It was incredible. If you didn’t watch the race, here’s what you missed:

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To put this into context, the last time that a driver was able to climb into a NASCAR Cup car (the highest level of racing) and win their first race was 1963, or 60 years ago.

The drive that Shane van Gisbergen put on at Chicago was seemingly miraculous if you had no idea who Shane was or how he got there. Even many of the NASCAR drivers were surprised and impressed by what happened. Here, listen to Kyle Larson talk about what it was like trying to keep up with Shane:

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“It was so fun to watch from my view,” said Larson, the 2021 Sprint Cup Champion, who sounds here more like a fan than a competitor. “He put on a show and it was cool to see. When a guy like that can come in, and kick your ass at your own game it shows that we all have room to improve,” said Larson. I’m curious what he thinks about us, he obviously passed a lot of us. I’m curious if he thinks we suck, or if he thinks we can compete.”

“He made me look bad,” Chase Elliot admitted. This is true. I was there watching SvG qualify on Saturday in the dry and Elliot clearly lined up behind the Kiwi driver to try and learn how to get the fastest lap. It didn’t work:

Why Shane Was Amazing, But Didn’t Surprise Me

Shane Van Gisbergen

Here’s a photo of Shane van Gisbergen at Le Mans last year, getting his first chance to compete at that historic track. It is, if I remember correctly, the first time he got to sit in the car, and you can see the smile on his face. I was lucky enough to get to follow him and his team before and during the race.

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“He’s bad fast.” That’s how Bill Riley, one of the winningest men in sports car racing, described why he picked SvG for his team. Riley was correct. While the team didn’t win, the driver from New Zealand put down some fast laps and impressed everyone.

I’d been a fan of SvG for a while, having seen him race in V8 Supercars (Australia’s stock car racing equivalent), where he’s the reigning champion, and the Bathurst 1000.

When I was at Le Mans, I’d sort of assumed he’d be this big, boisterous driver dude who would be excited to talk to me. I was wrong. He was quiet and, uncharacteristically for a Red Bull athlete, a little camera shy. The first interview I did with him was, frankly, kinda bad. At one point I had an interview set up with him and he tried to dodge me until, finally, I found him and nervously asked me to make another driver do the interview because “I fucking hate this stuff.”

Later on a friend of his explained that it wasn’t me, he’s just like that sometimes. In spite of all that, when SvG finally decided to talk he gave one of the best answers to a question all that week.

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So none of this was a surprise to me. Plus, this was NASCAR’s first street race (see Tweet below of downtown Chicago) and SvG’s V8 Supercar is basically an upside down stock car (the aero is on the top in a V8 Supercar and on the bottom in NASCAR). He has a ton of road course experience and so, frankly, this shouldn’t have surprised anyone.

NASCAR Needed This

There were a lot of people rooting against this race. NASCAR fans were complaining online that the series could have gone to any number of race tracks that have been ignored lately. Chicagoans were griping about NASCAR coming to town.

On Friday and Saturday, the vibes were great. I mean, just off-the-charts positive. The NASCAR people were loving Chicago and the race. The Chicago people were surprised to find themselves loving the racing. I saw zero confederate flags, but I did see at least one “Cowboy Beebop” shirt.

Qualifying for both NASCAR series was exciting and it was clear something great was starting. Even the people who had only come for the concerts seemed curious about the racing.

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And then the lightning came. And the confusion. And the rain. The track turned into a lake as the racing ground to a halt. People started complaining. This was a sign, from God, that NASCAR shouldn’t have done this. Chicago shouldn’t have done this. The vibes were bad. All day.

Finally, hesitantly, the rain abated. The track crew ferociously battled the puddles with their big jet dryers. The drivers got in their cars. No one knew what would happen, but everyone expected to run out of light before the race could be finished.

There was a risk that this could be the spoiled neon green relish highlighting the Chicago-style crapdog the weekend was becoming.

And then, like magic, a very tall and very quiet man from New Zealand walked in and kicked everyone’s ass and charmed everyone’s ass at exactly the same time. Then, suddenly, he didn’t seem so quiet:

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Sean Ellery
Sean Ellery
11 months ago

Admittedly driving in V8 Supercars, he’s had a lot more experience in turning both left AND right in the same race than your typical NASCAR driver…

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
11 months ago

Giz seems like one of those epic drivers who just drives whatever he can, whenever he can. Much respect.

Now he’s gone and become THE road course ringer to end all road course ringers, haha.

DeWayne
DeWayne
11 months ago

I think that with some more on the asphalt, possibly some work on safely widening a few areas of the track, and this could become a very important event in the NASCAR calendar. I’m from Chicago, and seeing those things thundering down LSD and Mich ave was very cool.

I think you could justify some upgrades for the track if you could court Indycar to go there. Hell, make it a double header weekend.

Yes I Drive A 240
Yes I Drive A 240
11 months ago
Reply to  DeWayne

I think the layout needs a slight redesign if it’s going to support Indycar, let alone another NASCAR event. The pit entrance needs to be a priority, as it was clearly an afterthought based on it’s poor positioning and the fact that a walkway over the track was blocking part of it. I personally think it needs an extra corner or two, as it’s mostly just straightaways ending at hard-right corners. I’m not from Chicago, so I have no idea if there are other roads that are viable near the course, but it’s something I’d like to see if they make it a permanent race.

Alex Estill
Alex Estill
11 months ago

My office overlooks the half-circle at Congress and Michigan, so we’ve been watching the whole spectacle from setup to teardown and came in Saturday to watch the racing from our windows.

My take-away – the event coordination seemed super well done. Streets kept open as long as possible, lots of communication – IMO no more an inconvenience than Lollapalooza or any other large scale Grant Park event.

The ticket prices, though, confuse the hell out of me. $250 minimum for two-day access with no seat included (compared to Nascar average ticket prices of about $30 to $150). No option I saw for a Saturday only ticket, stands were maybe half full on Saturday. I’ve heard food and drink prices inside the gates were nuts. Friends said the police or security or someone was seriously cracking down on anyone outside the gates selling merch. Fences blacked out to prevent watching from outside the ticketed area. We got lunch from a Chipotle a block from the course and it was dead, nobody there but police officers grabbing a meal break.

I think its a super cool event and I hope they do it again next year, and maybe concerns over violence led to some bad decisions, but it felt like a made for TV advertising kind of event. The atmosphere should have been like the Chicago Marathon – get the whole city involved, make it accessible, make it a party – cheap tickets or free access to some viewing areas. I’m sure they made plenty of money on advertising – highest TV viewership in 6 years or something). I mean, it was definitely cool, but it could have been so much better!

rctothefuture
rctothefuture
11 months ago
Reply to  Alex Estill

The prices were high because the tickets also included 3 concerts. So technically, the pricing wasn’t too terrible. I hope next year they offer a “race only” ticket so fans who don’t care about the concert can enjoy the weekend too.

Chi_spotting
Chi_spotting
11 months ago

He was definitely the most fun driver to watch. I don’t recall if he was tied up in any incidents on the track. Certainly not the pile up and definitely not hitting the tires ever.

I hope he can continue his streak!

Ron888
Ron888
11 months ago

How cool is that? Now i want to see him on an oval! That probably wont go as well but it’ll be fun to watch.
By the way thanks for getting his nationality right.We australians tend to steal kiwis that make good,and assume them to be aussies.Often that becomes written fact

Last edited 11 months ago by Ron888
Sci Pi
Sci Pi
11 months ago

It got me interested in NASCAR…………if they raced on more circuits with left and right turns, I’d watch more races

Last edited 11 months ago by Sci Pi
rctothefuture
rctothefuture
11 months ago
Reply to  Sci Pi

Good news, they run several a year! Sonoma, Watkins Glen, Charlotte Roval, Chicago, COTA, and Indy.

Yes I Drive A 240
Yes I Drive A 240
11 months ago
Reply to  Sci Pi

NASCAR runs on more road courses now than they ever have. I believe it’s 7 races per year. Out of 36 total, that’s not bad.

Laika
Laika
11 months ago

spoiled neon green relish highlighting the Chicago-style crapdog

Them’s fightin’ words!

Unimaginative Username
Unimaginative Username
11 months ago

First NASCAR race I’ve watched in years, and it did not disappoint. One thing I was unclear on is if it’s common for guys to wreck all the time and just keep driving – like the guy in the Wendy’s Baconator car crashed in the same corner four times, twice so hard he needed to be towed out of the barrier, and he kept going. Another guy ripped his front fender three-quarters of the way off and just kept driving with it flapping around being held on by a thread!

Huge contrast for me, I tuned in right after watching F1 on tape delay so I’m used to the tiniest miscue completely destroying a driver’s weekend, and (unfortunately) a level of competition so not-level that Verstappen had time to make a completely unnecessary pit stop for fresh tires just so he could steal the fast lap point from his own damn teammate and still win by several seconds…

Santiago Iglesias
Santiago Iglesias
11 months ago

the new gen of cars are pretty strong, unless they get hit directly in the wheel and damage suspension

rctothefuture
rctothefuture
11 months ago

The joys of stock car racing. You can quite literally run a car with no hood, fenders, or even a door without many issues!

Yes I Drive A 240
Yes I Drive A 240
11 months ago

The new cars are tougher than the old cars. If he did that three years ago, he would have been out after the first crash.

SK2807
SK2807
11 months ago

There’s a reason people who can turn left and right win against drivers who can’t on road courses.

SVG is a great driver, Marcos Ambrose did the same from V8 Supercars a few years back and won at Watkins Glen six times in his NASCAR career.

Indy runs on quite a few road/street courses, and an Australian won the championship last year with New Zealanders in third and fourth.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago

I cant believe there is a quality yet humble driver athlete in modern day sports. Hope this guy stays humble and out in front for a long time.

Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
11 months ago

NBC interviewed the top 10 finishers 2nd through 10th mostly talked about what went wrong for them. Kyle Larson had nothing but praise for Shane van Gisbergen and Kyle admitted the NASCAR guys got there asses kicked. I’m sure we will be seeing much more of him and probably really soon.

notoriousDUG
notoriousDUG
11 months ago

As a dweller of the city and somebody who experienced disruption in their life for this race to happen, I was SUPER skeptical about the race. Now seeing the results I have to admit it went over fairly well and looks to have been a good race.

Hearing the cars in the background as the storm clouds cleared in the evening was pretty cool.

Although I am ~20 blocks from the course so I would guess much closer that may have been less cool.

Ricki
Ricki
11 months ago

By the end, the whole household was watching the race. I was interested at first as a curiosity–the whole concept seemed either brilliant or doomed to fail. I was pretty disheartened to hear that the xfinity race had been suspended, then canceled outright, and I was worried when it was still raining around go time for the Cup. But it was a true road/street racing race. Shitty conditions, tight corners, guys at all levels of car and race experience. The qualifying footage genuinely got me amped for the whole thing, and I almost immediately latched onto SVG as a favorite.

I genuinely hope NASCAR keeps coming back to the city, either the speedway or the streets (or both–if they can do multiple dates at other tracks, they sure could up here), and I especially hope that this is the kick in the ass Chicago needs for motorsports in general. The crowd shots were great. So many people coming together in such crap conditions to see what engineering, endurance, skill, and luck can do. Not to mention that it was won by an international star in his first ever run. Just a whole lot of history yesterday.

Strangek
Strangek
11 months ago

If he ends up racing full time in the States I hope he finds his way to IndyCar, it’s worked out well for Scott McLaughlin after he spent a few years dominating Australian Supercars.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
11 months ago

I was rooting for this race to be a success and it was flipping awesome. At first I thought the record setting rain would ruin everything but it ended up adding to the excitement. Anyone else impressed by how well those composite bodies hold up? Kudos to the regulars who had the class to say, “Look at that SVG go!”

Isis
Isis
11 months ago

The end of that race was incredible. You knew he was gonna just murder those few guys in front of him and he looked so smooth doing it. Just. . . byeeeee. . .

DadBod
DadBod
11 months ago

Chicago is friggin’ awesome (lived in Ukranian Village a while back) and this would have been fun to see in person. Thanks for the articles that even a non-NASCAR fan can enjoy.

ExAutoJourno
ExAutoJourno
11 months ago

What I want to see is whether van Gisbergen can come back and pick up oval racing as quickly as he seems to have learned the NASCAR Kit Car. I’ll bet he can.

Incredible performance from SvG, free of rubbin’, bangin’ and shovin.’ All he did was prove that smooth, consistent driving can get it done. Some of the Top Names in the field need to learn that.

All in all, a good race, but on a real snoozer of a course that showed a major problem with street circuits: any mishap, no matter how trivial, virtually stops the race for extended periods because access and run-off room are so incredibly limited. Compare and contrast with the IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio….

And, finally, in my opinion the NBC broadcast was pathetic. Not that the bar is set very high to begin with. The actual race clearly took second place to drivel about Chicago, Michael Jordan and gushing about favored drivers/teams/cars. The was no flow to the broadcast, and very little detail from pit reporters or the cadre of retired racers behind the microphones. Whether NASCAR or the network is scripting the event and vetting the commentary I do not know. All I know is that much improvement needs to be made in this area.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
11 months ago
Reply to  ExAutoJourno

I did feel the NBC team was a little too sedate. The whole thing needed more Clint Boyer.

ExAutoJourno
ExAutoJourno
11 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

I would have even liked a dose of Darrell Waltrip!

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
11 months ago
Reply to  ExAutoJourno

Even Junior was oddly quiet. I think the street race format had them out of sorts and they weren’t sure what to say/how to say it. I figure the more of these NASCAR does, they’ll get used to it and the coverage will improve.

In a lot of ways, this race was the next step in the series’ evolution and that’s confusing at first; but eventually, we’ll look back and see this was the start of a good thing.

Yes I Drive A 240
Yes I Drive A 240
11 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Dear god no. I don’t hate Bowyer but I’m sick and tired of hearing him spout nonsense on the Fox broadcast. If I hear him say “hotrod” again…

Cable jockey
Cable jockey
11 months ago
Reply to  ExAutoJourno

Disagree on your opinion on the street course. I’ve tried to watch nascar in the past and always got bored because it seemed based more on tactics and strategy than skill. This race actually engaged me enough to sit through a crappy antenna signal, and I think it’s because this is more than four left/right whatever turns.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago
Reply to  ExAutoJourno

Brand new kind of race, brand new track, brand new city, drivers from all over etc. How do you expect everybody new to go smooth? THINK.

ExAutoJourno
ExAutoJourno
11 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Have you watched many NASCAR races on TV? The broadcasters’ performance was, sadly, what we are getting these days. Had nothing to do with the “newness” of the event, but rather was the kind of follow-the-script-no-matter-what-happens, low-info pap that has become standard for NASCAR of late.

SkyRise
SkyRise
11 months ago

Wow. He completely schooled the field. Will be interesting to see if he continues to do that. I assume the road course played to his strengths.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
11 months ago

Despite strong headwinds, this race turned out fantastic. The visuals were game-changing, and they proved what I’ve always thought- that stock cars would perform great on a street circuit, because it’s just Martinsville with rights.
As for SvG, I never heard of him before Saturday. Shame on me for not paying attention to Aussie V8s. But hats off to him, and to Marks for his #91 program.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago

Well probably the only driver experienced at turning right in a race! LOL.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
11 months ago

I loved his attention to maximizing consistent technique and all the tools available – it was a masterclass in competitive driving fundamentals. He actually heel-toed the downshifts, used the clutch, and activated his windshield wiper when it could be useful.

AlienProbe
AlienProbe
11 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Word. I loved the camera angle showing him heel-toeing. Reminded me of when the broadcasts loved showing Boris Said do that when he did the occasional ass-kicking in NASCAR as well. Great race to watch!

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
11 months ago
Reply to  AlienProbe

Take your smiley face – I have a “Said Head Nation” decal somewhere!

It was because of his explanation once about leverage with the steering wheel that convinced me to move my own seats forward and more upright, changing from quasi-recumbent position in which most people drive.

What you cite is one of my favorite things in the broadcasts, when they show and explain the actual techniques used. Makes the racing more real to me, more connected with the actual drivers.

Martin English
Martin English
11 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Bearing in mind that this turned put to be the best race for him to debut in (great team around him, circuit new to everyone, road circuit, racing on a wet track), this was a stunning performance. I mean, I think it suprised a lot of his fans down here in Aus …
I got the impression from elsewhere that he took his preparation very seriously, as he saw it as an audition for a full time drive.

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