Triple Australian Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen became the first driver in 60 years to win on his NASCAR Cup Series debut, producing a fairytale victory on the new Chicago street course.
His fellow NASCAR outsider Jenson Button finished 21st in his second Cup start after a pitlane spin undid a strong first stint.
Van Gisbergen was driving the Trackhouse Racing car co-owned by musician Pitbull that is appearing at selected races for drivers outside the usual NASCAR realm, and which was previously used by 2007 Formula 1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen.
A stunning late charge and a double pass for the win through Turns 2 and 4 on Justin Haley gave the Kiwi driver the honour.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) July 3, 2023
Both guest drivers had impressed in qualifying on Saturday. Button qualified eighth in his Rick Ware Racing Ford entry supported by Stewart-Haas, while van Gisbergen claimed third.
The race was heavily delayed due to extensive rain that forced an early end to the Xfinity Series support race, but with wet tyres now available NASCAR eventually risked getting the Cup race started an hour and a half late.
Both guest drivers remained in the top 10 in the wet early going before Button pitted, but before he could even enter the pitlane on lap 23 of 75 he was spun by Chris Buescher.
Button was trying to pit but it was clear Buescher wasn’t aware of that and couldn’t avoid contact. Button spun his car 180 degrees but almost collected Joey Logano in the pit entry.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) July 2, 2023
Multiple members of the NBC TV broadcast team hinted that Button needed to do a better job of showing the car behind he was about to pit, and his entry was quite wide.
Button was among the very earliest drivers to pit for slicks – which won’t be a surprise to any of his F1 fans – and he ended up near the back of the pack.
He drove all the way back to 20th before a lap 29 caution, just before which van Gisbergen had pitted and come back out in the top five thanks to his pace in the first stint helping to create a big buffer to the rest of the field.
The key moment of the race came on lap 46 when NASCAR declared the race would run to lap 75 instead of the planned 100 owing to the onset of nightfall and the late start. The temporary street circuit does not have suitable lighting to race under.
That meant that those who pitted on lap 30 – nine cars in total led by Haley – could stay out under caution and still have enough fuel to make it to the end.
It meant initial frontrunners like Tyler Reddick and the most dominant car for most of the race, Christopher Bell, were mired outside the top 15.
However, those cars had 16-lap fresher tyres so almost immediately began to work their way forward through cautions, a dry track and the cars ahead that were out of position.
Road course stars Reddick and Bell both hit the Turn 6 wall in a matter of laps, and but for a short spell where future Indianapolis 500 entrant and 2021 Cup champion Kyle Larson was the strategy leader, van Gisbergen seemed to get better as the track dried and muscled his way forwards.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) July 3, 2023
Van Gisbergen passed Larson’s Hendrick team-mate Chase Elliott at Turn 2 with eight laps to go and then actually made the move for the lead with five to go but had to give the position back as the move was incomplete before a caution came out.
On the restart SVG repeated his Turn 2 dive with success, Haley retook the position through Turn 3 and then van Gisbergen finally assumed the lead at Turn 4.
He’d still have to manage to get his first NASCAR restart from the front in an overtime finish, but with 80 Supercar wins the occasion was never likely to overcome him.
Johnny Rutherford in 1963 at Daytona was the last driver to win on a NASCAR top-series debut, while van Gisbergen also becomes NASCAR’s first and so far only street course winner as Chicago was the first race of its kind in NASCAR’s 75-year history.
Haley was an impressive second for relative minnow team Kaulig Racing which usually has AJ Allmendinger at the front on road courses.
Button took 21st which felt like a representative finish for his pace on the drying track after he had maintained a top-10 spot in the wet.
Despite his early stop, Button did not head to pitlane on lap 30 like some of his rivals which would have put him back into a potential top 10 position, but he still drove sensibly and stayed out of trouble where he could. Ultimately he never recovered from the pitlane entry spin.
Button still has one more race this season to navigate with the Indianapolis road course next month, whereas van Gisbergen has no more NASCAR races confirmed and a Supercars season to finish.
The Kiwi driver has not ruled out a full-time racing future in the US or trying a series like IndyCar, where his long-time rival Scott McLaughlin has become a multiple race winner and endearingly live-tweeted in excitement while van Gisbergen was racing in Chicago.
Better get a flight to Chicago 😅🍻
— Scott McLaughlin (@smclaughlin93) July 3, 2023
McLaughlin also said “I’m down” when asked if he would race in NASCAR at Chicago next year if there were no IndyCar scheduling conflicts.
Trackhouse has expressed interest in racing in IndyCar in some capacity in the future although that’s not expected any time soon.
The Project 91 car van Gisbergen drove had a previous best finish of 29th with Raikkonen at Austin earlier this year, after making its debut at the Watkins Glen race last season when a promising drive from Raikkonen came to an abrupt end when he was taken out of a strong position.
The team had recently scored its first win of the season with Ross Chastain at Nashville, with van Gisbergen’s victory taking the team to five wins mid-way through its third season in the series.