When the Grant Park 220 turned topsy-turvy at the 49-lap mark, the change didn’t slow New Zealander Shane van Gisbergen, the first driver to win a race in his first NASCAR Cup Series start since Johnny Rutherford accomplished the feat 60 years ago.
Driving the No. 91 Chevrolet under the aegis of Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 program, the three-time Supercars champion charged from eighth on a Lap 61 restart to the front of the field and won the series’ first street race on the Chicago Street Course in overtime.
Asked whether he thought victory was possible in his NASCAR debut, van Gisbergen chuckled.
“No, of course not, but you always dream of it,” he said. “Thank you so much to the Trackhouse team and (sponsor) Enhance Health, Project 91. What an experience in the crowd out here. This was so cool. This is what you dream of. Hopefully, I can come and do more.”
What changed the tenor of the race dramatically was NASCAR’s decision near the midpoint of the event to shorten the race from the scheduled 100 laps to 75, putting a large group of cars that had pitted on Lap 43 inside their fuel window.
After the previously dominant cars of Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson and Tyler Reddick pitted with others for tires and fuel on Lap 47 – van Gisbergen among them – Justin Haley, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott led the field to green on a single-file restart on Lap 49. At the time van Gisbergen was 18th, but not for long.
“Wow, when we had that back strategy back to 18th, I started to worry a bit, but the racing was really good,” said van Gisbergen. “Everyone was respectful. It was tough, but a lot of fun.”
“He was in a league of his own,” Chase Elliott said of van Gisbergen. “In my opinion, he put on a really big-time clinic. I don’t want to speak for everybody else, but he made me look bad. I kind of think the rest of us, too.”
Kyle Busch noted that van Gisbergen has driven cars similar for Cup cars for years.
“He’s probably four, five, eight years ahead of us in this sort of car,” Busch said.
Van Gisbergen gave Trackhouse Racing its second win in a row. He drove for Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 effort, and his win comes a week after Ross Chastain won at Nashville.
He won a race shortened by darkness after being delayed by rain. The race was to have gone 100 laps but was shortened to 75 laps and then extended four laps by overtime.
Justin Haley finished second and was followed by Elliott, Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch, who overcame an early crash into the Turn 6 tire barrier to score a top five.
Sixth through 10th was Austin Cindric, Michael McDowell, Joey Logano, Ty Gibbs and Chris Buescher.
The race started on a wet course after rain much of the day, which delayed the beginning of the race by about 90 minutes. It was 20 laps in before teams started taking wet weather tires off and putting on slick tires as the racing line dried.
Only once was the track blocked in the event — something that many feared could happen multiple times in the race. The track was blocked in Turn 11 on Lap 50. William Byron missed the corner and then Corey LaJoie and Kevin Harvick made contact, Harvick hit the wall and came across the track and blocked half of it. Other cars ran into each other and the inside lane also was blocked.
Christopher Bell won both stages but saw his chances to win end quickly. When NASCAR announced on Lap 46 that the race would be shortened to 75 laps, he was leading, but some cars had already pitted and were in position to make it to the end. When Bell pitted, he restarted 12th behind those looking to make it to the end of the race.
Van Gisbergen got a chance to drive the No. 91 Chevrolet in Chicago as part of Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91. The goal for the team is expanding its global reach.
When van Gisbergen was credited with leading Lap 25, it was the first lap led for Project 91 in three starts. He became the sixth driver born outside the United States to win a NASCAR Cup Series race, joining Marcos Ambrose, Mario Andretti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Earl Ross and Daniel Suárez.
“He’s going to go home and tell all his friends how bad we are,” Elliott cracked. Van Gisbergen won his first Supercars championship in 2016 and added two more the past two years. He was helped in his NASCAR debut by Darian Grubb, who was the crew chief for Tony Stewart when he won the Cup Series championship in 2011.
The race was scheduled for 100 laps and 220 miles, but it was shortened because of fading sunlight after the start was delayed for more 90 minutes because of a historic rainfall that flooded the course. The last half of the Xfinity Race, set to resume after it was suspended Saturday because of lightning, was canceled.
Gragson, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano all visited the rows of tires in Turn 6. Hamlin and Elliott got into the tire pack in Turn 2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was hit by Bubba Wallace and got stuck in the tire barrier in Turn 1 late in the race.
There also was a massive pileup involving 14 cars on Michigan Avenue on the 50th lap, clogging the course and almost assuredly drawing a smile from regular Chicago drivers familiar with the area.
Kyrgios has been sidelined with the knee injury that included a meniscus tear for most of 2023. He missed both the Australian Open and the French Open. He called the decision to pull out of the Australian Open after an MRI revealed the injury “pretty brutal.”
“One of the most important tournaments of my career,” the Australian native said of the Open.
Kyrgios made his return to tennis on June 13 on the grass courts at the Stuttgart Open. He’d planned to make his Grand Slam comeback at Wimbledon before news of the wrist injury sidelined him yet again. He was slated as the tournament’s No. 30 seed and scheduled to face Belgium’s David Goffin in the first round on Monday. Goffin’s new first-round opponent wasn’t immediately clear as of Sunday evening.
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