Making the hike from New Zealand to America, Shane van Gisbergen has made a rapid entrance into the atmosphere of NASCAR, quickly becoming one of the sport’s most prominent storylines.
Since capturing the victory – on debut – in the Grant Park 220 on July 2, what originally started out as a one-off with Trackhouse Racing, has blossomed into the Auckland, New Zealand native eyeing a change of pace, by way of NASCAR competition.
So, when Trackhouse Racing announced that the 34-year-old would return to the NASCAR Cup Series at Indianapolis, many questioned whether the Supercars champion would be able to replicate his success, without the advantage of the tight confines of a street course.
Having never made a lap on the 2.438-mile circuit prior to Saturday, van Gisbergen put together a fairly solid weekend, which other than an early-race incident with Ty Gibbs, was entirely mistake-free.
By the end of the 82-lap event, the Trackhouse Racing driver was posting some of the fastest laps on-track, as he fought Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson hard for position, ultimately coming home in 10th, making him the first driver since Terry Labonte in 1978 to start his NASCAR Cup Series career with a pair of top-10 results.
Finishing 10th in Sunday's #Verizon200 at @IMS, @ShaneVG97 became the first driver since Terry Labonte in 1978 to start their #NASCAR Cup Series career with back-to-back top-10 finishes.#SrigleyStats feat. @RacingAmerica pic.twitter.com/NsL2uZkY8m
— Joseph Srigley (@joe_srigley) August 13, 2023
“It’s hard here because everyone’s on it. Everyone knows the track and there’s a lot more room for error. Everyone’s racing aggressively.I can’t thank the Project 91 guys here enough for the Enhance Chevy. So much fun to be back. Hopefully can do more. Had an awesome battle with Kyle (Larson) and Christopher (Bell) there. They got the better of me at the end, but battling with those guys was great.”
Overall, the driver of the No. 91 Embrace Health Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 ranked sixth in green-flag speed on the afternoon, behind only the top-four finishers – McDowell, Elliott, Suarez, and Reddick – and Ty Gibbs.
But, with just one full-course caution on the afternoon, a lack of natural stoppages eliminated any opportunities for the field to make up positions on restarts, leaving everybody to fight against the same people throughout the entire race.
Granted, those battles, despite being with the same drivers lap after lap, were epically fierce, as van Gisbergen recalled after the race, in particular a battle he had with fifth-place finisher Alex Bowman.
“It’s aggressive, but it’s fair,” said the 80-time Supercars winner. “I put a block on [Alex Bowman], and the next corner he just moved me. I guess I deserved that. The racing was fun. I really enjoyed it. All the battling when you go through a move on someone, they give you room. They expect it back. Really cool.”
When the dust settled on an incredibly busy weekend in Indianapolis, Indiana, the key to it all was that the New Zealander was having fun. Not just in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series event, but in every aspect.
“It’s been an amazing week, I can’t thank Justin Marks and the Trackhouse team enough for giving me this opportunity,” van Gisbergen said reflecting on his weekend. “I learned a lot in the Truck on Friday night, and to get to come here and race again. Although a top-10 is awesome, expectations are high because of the last race.”
And, not to mention, he’s still learning how things go, especially when it comes to oval racing. But, after a respectable 19th-place effort in Friday’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event at Indianapolis Raceway Park, he’s starting to get more experience there, too.
“I just have to realize a top-10 is still pretty good.”