INDIANAPOLIS (BVM) – In June, Shane van Gisbergen introduced himself to NASCAR by winning the inaugural Chicago Street Race. The victory was unlikely, but not improbable for the native of New Zealand.
“I wasn’t the fastest car all day, a couple of them ended up in the fence,” van Gisbergen said during a recent appearance on the Dale Jr. Download podcast. “But it was pretty cool.”
The 34-year-old driver is well known closer to home, as he is a three-time Australia Supercars champion. He came over to the United States to drive in the Grant Park 220 as part of Trackhouse Racing’s “Project 91,” a program designed to give international drivers an opportunity to compete in NASCAR.
“I think that’s the way that Trackhouse tells the story of ‘Project 91’ and inviting people to come over,” van Gisbergen said. “The way that it’s all put across is done very well. The support we had was awesome. It was pretty humbling to see how many people reached out afterwards.”
With low expectations, van Gisbergen handled the streets of Chicago beautifully, and became the first driver to win their first NASCAR Cup Series start since 1963.
HE'S DONE IT!
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) July 3, 2023
— Shane van Gisbergen (@shanevg97) July 3, 2023
“I love the style of racing here,” van Gisbergen said. “It’s been a bit difficult in Australia or a bit different … It’s kind of entertaining now to come here and maybe try something else.”
After the race, van Gisbergen was quickly embraced by NASCAR fans, and speculation began about him potentially becoming a NASCAR driver as soon as 2024. Less than a month after racing in Chicago, van Gisbergen announced he would return to the states to drive at the Indianapolis Road Course, and not long after, he also made his intentions clear that he plans to join NASCAR next season.
The New Zealand native will not be the first international driver to make a transition like this, as Marcos Ambrose made the move from Australia to join NASCAR over a decade ago. As he made his decision, van Gisbergen sought out advice from Ambrose.
“Just get over here as soon as you can,” van Gisbergen said about what Ambrose told him. “Go and give it a crack. You’ve got plenty of years left. Just go and get amongst it. Live over here and just embed yourself in the lifestyle.”
A week prior to the street race in Chicago, van Gisbergen attended his first NASCAR race at Nashville Superspeedway, and was excited by what he saw.
“Coming here just opened my eyes,” van Gisbergen said. “I watched it, obviously, but had never been to a race … It was epic.
“I come here and the race is just a hustle the whole time. You’re just driving flat out, and that’s what I love here.”
Now, van Gisbergen will get a couple of cracks at earning his second NASCAR victory this weekend.
— Shane van Gisbergen (@shanevg97) July 19, 2023
On Friday, the 34-year-old will race in the NASCAR Truck Series with Niece Motorsports, a new experience which will be an adjustment for the longtime driver.
“I might hate it, but who knows,” van Gisbergen joked. “It’s gonna take a long time.”
— Niece Motorsports (@NieceMotorsport) August 7, 2023
On Sunday, van Gisbergen will return to the Cup Series in the No. 91 Chevrolet for the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.
#91 looks 👌 pic.twitter.com/ETcqkAPOwf
— Shane van Gisbergen (@shanevg97) August 9, 2023
“This track is gonna be tough,” van Gisbergen mentioned. “The street circle was perfect for me. No one knew it, I race street tracks a lot. Whereas here, they’ve been here the last three years … They’ve got a lot more information about it.”
After winning his first-ever Cup Series race, expectations are understandably high for the Australia Supercars driver, and even a couple of the other foreign drivers competing in this weekend’s race which include Australia’s Brodie Kostecki and Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi.
“The expectations are obviously gonna be pretty high after Chicago,” van Gisbergen said. “People know who you are now. I think half the drivers didn’t know who I was [at Chicago].”
A strong performance would also bode well for van Gisbergen’s stock heading into next year as he looks to officially join NASCAR.
“I guess it would help,” van Gisbergen added. “I haven’t put pressure on myself to do it. I’ve prepared hard and if I go well, naturally I think it will help.
“I hope to be competitive this weekend, there’s no reason why I’m not. Good car for the Cup race and awesome team again. I just have to put it all together.”
Another strong performance for Justin Marks’ Trackhouse Racing squad will undoubtedly have van Gisbergen in position to join a NASCAR team next year, perhaps even Trackhouse Racing itself. However, the Australia Supercars driver believes he will begin his NASCAR career in more of a part-time role, perhaps racing in the Truck Series or Xfinity Series to start.
“I don’t think I could jump straight into the Cup stuff,” van Gisbergen said. “You need a lot of time to come here, adjust to the lifestyle, see how it all works. I’m used to driving 12 to 18 weekends a year, not 36. It’d be a big adjustment, and then learning the oval stuff, how it all works, the routine. I need a lot of learning time.”
For now, van Gisbergen remains focused on the immediate future. Following his weekend at Indianapolis, the driver will head back to home to race at Adelaide next weekend after a recent win in Australia to end last month.
— Supercars (@supercars) July 30, 2023
Although many NASCAR fans are not familiar with Australia Supercars and vice versa, van Gisbergen notes that the racing back home is still very competitive.
“Our series is pretty good,” he said. “The top 10 guys are really good drivers. They can come here and run a pretty good race.”
While he will be racing until the end of November in Australia, van Gisbergen doesn’t plan on competing in any more NASCAR races during the rest of the 2023 season, as he respectfully doesn’t want to impact the playoff picture down the stretch. However, it likely won’t be long before fans are seeing van Gisbergen drive regularly on the NASCAR circuit.