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Why SVG's Indianapolis NASCAR weekend was even more impressive than his Chicago win

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

BY: EDDIE KALEGI



As darkness set in and Shane van Gisbergen exited turn 12 on the final lap of the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series street race in Chicago, the New Zealand native had immediately become a legend of the sport. The driver more colloquially known in the states as simply "SVG" was the first to win in his cup debut since Johnny Rutherford more than six decades prior, a feat previously considered impossible in the modern era.


While the 34 year-old's resounding victory was celebrated by many throughout the NASCAR community, he had his doubters. The playing field was as level as ever at the street circuit. Very few drivers had any prior street racing experience, and of those, most came in open wheel cars. Van Gisbergen's background in Australian V-8 Supercars, which has previously produced multi-time NASCAR Cup Series winner Marcos Ambrose, set him up quite nicely to contend at a track style he was familiar with and driving a car not too different from his experience down under.


For this reason, there were those who saw his winning performance as merely an anomaly. The race was shortened from its normal distance, and SVG's late-race battle for the win was with Justin Haley, the driver most associated with the term 'fluke victory' across all three national series over the past five years.


Even those who enjoyed van Gisbergen's triumph in his 'home ballpark' per se wanted to see the driver take the next step in a commitment to the sport beyond a one-off in Trackhouse Racing's Project 91 entry. During our trip to cover the NASCAR weekend at Pocono Raceway a few weeks ago, Penske Racing driver Austin Cindric made it clear that he wanted drivers like SVG to get out of their comfort zones.




And out of his comfort zone he was. On Friday night, Shane van Gisbergen made his NASCAR national series oval debut for Niece Motorsports, racing in the Craftsman Truck Series at Lucas Oil Raceway Park. In a series and at a track not necessarily known for clean racing, van Gisbergen found a comfort level almost immediately, and brought his Chevrolet home in 19th without a scratch.


Sunday's performance in the NASCAR Cup Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course was similarly impressive. Van Gisbergen once again kept it clean, spending the vast majority of his day inside of the top ten and coming home tenth in the #91 entry for Trackhouse, as Michael McDowell had a career-day to notch his second career victory and playoff berth.


But what truly sets SVG apart comes to fruition when you compare him with the other ringers in the field. Former Formula One driver Kamui Kobayashi and fellow V-8 Supercars full-timer Brodie Kostecki each made their cup debuts Sunday, driving for 23XI Racing and Richard Childress Racing respectively, two teams that have performed very similarly to Trackhouse in 2023, and two teams that have also previously fielded part-time entries for other drivers in the very recent past, meaning the programs weren't brand new. What happened? Van Gisbergen, with just one more start of Cup Series experience, outclassed his world class competition, with both Kostecki and Kobayashi finishing outside of the top 20 while van Gisbergen managed a very low-key day running consistently in the back half of the top ten.


Van Gisbergen clearly recognized the give and take nature of NASCAR, showing aggression and a comfort level to use the bumper when necessary, something he didn't really do in the Windy City. All the while, his competitive advantage was gone. After winning at a track that was new territory for everyone, van Gisbergen now went to a place where he was the inexperienced one. This was the Cup Series' third trip to the circuit and second with the Next Gen car, seemingly giving the full-timers the competitive advantage. Regardless, SVG remained poised and confident, and battled with proven winners and champions of NASCAR's top series all day long.


As remarkable and memorable as van Gisbergen's win was at Chicago, following it up with another top ten at the cup level and coupling that with a successful first attempt at stock car oval racing can be chalked up as a weekend that overall, may very well have been more significant in his progression towards developing a North American motorsports career than his stunning standout victory in the country's third most populous city.


So what's next? Adam Stern reported last week that a deal is in place with Trackhouse Racing to bring the two-time Bathurst 1000 winner to NASCAR on a more frequent basis in 2024. Van Gisbergen said to media post-race that the deal isn't necessarily to go full-time, but that his Australian team has been very cooperative in his desire to race in the states.


Regardless of whenever, wherever, and whatever Shane van Gisbergen will race for Trackhouse next year and beyond, this weekend further proved that SVG is up for the challenge, as he aspires to someday become NASCAR's first true international superstar.



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