A BIG-TIME clinic.
That’s how 2020 NASCAR champion and perennial fan favourite Chase Elliott described Shane van Gisbergen’s demolition of the Cup Series field on the streets of Chicago.
The New Zealander topped practice, qualified third and then drove sublimely in a tricky, wet-dry race to become the first driver to win on their NASCAR Cup Series debut in 60 years.
Van Gisbergen’s run included carving through from 18th to the lead in the final 25 laps and controlling a green-and-white-chequer ‘overtime’ finish.
The result came aboard a Project91 Chevrolet Camaro entered in selected events by Trackhouse Racing to bring international talent to NASCAR.
“He’s going to go home and tell all of his friends how bad we are,” noted Elliott, who crashed in qualifying while chasing the Kiwi and finished third in the race.
“He was in a league of his own, and in my opinion, put on a really big-time clinic.
“I don’t want to speak for everybody else, but he made me look bad, and I kind of think the rest of us, too.”
Van Gisbergen capitalised on the similarities between Supercars and NASCARs under the Next Gen rule package the latter introduced in 2022, and the category’s first street race.
His performance was no surprise to those who had prior knowledge of his racing background, including two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch.
The 38-year-old, who finished fifth in today’s race, recently spent time behind the wheel of an ex-Supercar in the USA to try to improve his own road racing skills.
“He’s probably, I don’t know, four, five, eight years ahead of us in this sort of car in the things that he’s done with the V8 Supercars,” said Busch.
“I’ve worked with him before as a teammate with the Lexus (GT) program down at the Daytona 24 Hours. I knew he would be good when he came over.”
Others, such as fellow NASCAR champions Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, were taken aback by the arrival of the three-time Supercars champion.
Keselowski Tweeted post-race that he had not known who van Gisbergen was during a pre-race track walk.
I’ll be honest. Didn’t know who he was when walking beside him Saturday am.— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) July 3, 2023
But I dang sure do now!
Nice win man. https://t.co/6ZMRxi5U0W
Logano meanwhile put an amusing full-stop on a weekend in which TV commentators struggled with the Kiwi’s name and called him everything from “van Geesebergen” to “SVJ”.
“Whatever his name is, ‘van Burger’, I don’t know, ‘Hamburger’, he’s fast, that’s all I know. He rips,” laughed Logano.
“He was faster everywhere, in the corners, centre of the corner, off the corner, in every corner. He made us look like a bunch of fools.
“A foreigner came in and kicked our butt today, so we’ve got work to do.”
The NASCAR star who appeared to appreciate van Gisbergen’s efforts in adapting to yet another racing discipline the most was fourth-place finisher Kyle Larson.
Also known for his versatility, the 2021 NASCAR champion is set to add an Indianapolis 500 outing to his NASCAR and dirt track commitments next season.
Larson described van Gisbergen’s drive as “so fun to watch”, recounting: “When he got to my back bumper, I felt like I pieced together a really good section.
“I thought for sure I’d look in the mirror and I was going to be like two car lengths or something in front of him, and he was glued to my back bumper and I was like, ‘holy shit, this guy is flying!’.
“He was able to get by me, and then I got to watch the show.”
Larson tried to cling onto the back of van Gisbergen, marvelling at the way he could seemingly pass at any corner, and the eventual switch-back move in which SVG nabbed the lead from Justin Haley.
“It was sick. It was awesome,” Larson enthused.
“He put on a show and it was cool to see, and I think 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.
“I’m curious what he thinks about us. He obviously passed a lot of us, so I’m curious if he thinks we all suck or if we could actually, like, compete, if we weren’t really that bad.”
When the latter comment was put to van Gisbergen post-race, the 34-year-old said: “I’m sure if it was an oval, it would be the other way around!
“I guess this is my sort of bread and butter, the street circuits. Almost half of our series races are street circuits. I’m comfortable with the walls.”
Among a flood of praise for van Gisbergen on Twitter, Landon Cassill – who has 343 Cup starts over the last 13 years but is currently without a drive – said the ringer put the regulars on notice.
“Call it whatever you want, talent, versatile, doesn’t matter,” Cassill wrote. “This guy just smoked this field and it wasn’t even close.
“Can’t help but to think this puts Cup drivers, all NASCAR drivers for that matter officially on notice. Figure out Road/Street Racing or get replaced.”
A race win during the regular season for any full-time driver effectively grants them an automatic entry to the NASCAR Playoffs.
Van Gisbergen has expressed interest in moving to NASCAR full-time after the 2024 Supercars season.