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Shane van Gisbergen Learns a Lot on Path to 15th-Place Finish in Darlington Debut

Shane Van Gisbergen Darlington 2024 NASCAR Xfinity Series Crown Royal 200 Marcos Ambrose

Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

This weekend, Shane van Gisbergen was handed the perfect recipe to fail in his first start at the ever-treacherous Darlington Raceway as Friday’s practice and qualifying sessions were washed out by severe thunderstorms. As a result, any hope of finding any comfort at the 1.366-mile oval heading into Saturday’s race were dashed.

However, when the checkered flag flew on Saturday, the legend of the Australian Supercars Series was able to fight his way to a solid 15th-place finish. And more importantly, he was able to complete all of the laps, and he brought the car home in one piece.

“Yeah. I don’t think many people expected that and neither did I. I didn’t really know where I was going to be,” van Gisbergen stated with a chuckle. “I’m pretty stoked with that. The car is relatively straight, a few scuffs on the right side, but man, we did every lap. Learned a lot, and we were pretty competitive around the cars we were against. Pretty happy.”

While the end result was ultimately a positive, things didn’t start off so optimistic. As SVG rolled from the starting grid in 17th-place, and completed his first live-action laps around one of the toughest tracks in NASCAR, the driver of the No. 97 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet Camaro kept his head on a swivel and began drinking from a firehose as he adapted on the fly.

In the opening laps, van Gisbergen dropped a bit in the running order.

“Everyone just goes flat out. I needed a little bit of time there to just learn,” van Gisbergen explained. “And I dropped back a fair way, but kept it straight, and once I was comfortable, I kept going faster and faster.”

The most challenging thing for van Gisbergen was learning how to rip the outside wall. It’s the fast way around Darlington Raceway, but unless you’ve done it, many times before, trusting the aerodynamics to keep you from knocking the fence down is quite intimidating.

“I was a little bit tight to run the wall, and also to get confidence up there. It’s a hard feeling sliding up to the wall, trusting that this little imaginary air pocket is going to save you. It’s crazy feeling,” van Gisbergen said.

As he started to get his bearings, SVG was able to focus on perfecting tire management at the tight, yet fast, race track. Van Gisbergen feels if he were able to restart the race knowing what he knows now, that he would fair much better.

“Just knowing how the tires fall off,” van Gisbergen said when asked what was the most challenge aspect of the race. “We’re dropping three seconds a lap or something. The day gets crazy for only two corners, how much time you lose. It’s like ice skating, it’s a delicate balance. And I just don’t know what I want from the car yet. I wish I could start the race over. I’d be 10 times better at giving adjustments and understanding what I need.”

It was an odd dynamic for the New Zealander, but he started to figure it out, and at the end of the day, he was able to muster an ear-to-ear grin.

“It’s the lowest grip surface I’ve been on and the highest tire deg, so, just trying to balance that. You can cook the right front and then just trying to learn what these tires need to recover it or transfer the grip to the front is very difficult. But it’s a fine balance, and I’m learning every lap,” van Gisbergen explained.

While he wasn’t able to get any live-action laps prior to the start of Saturday’s race, the NASCAR Xfinity Series rookie contender was able to log some laps in the Chevrolet Simulator this weekend in preparation for Darlington, but he admits the simulator hasn’t been ultra-beneficial for him, personally.

“It’s not [accurate], not at all,” van Gisbergen stated. “I still use the sim a lot, but not as much as I did at the start of the year. These races are so different to the sim, you can’t really simulate being around people too much, so, yeah, being on track is the best thing you can do.”

Fortunately, SVG was able to stay on track all day long, and he now has a lot of mental notes about what it’s like to race at Darlington Raceway. The driver also took pride in being able to carry a throwback paint scheme honoring another legend of the Supercars Series — Marcos Ambrose.

“Thanks to QuadLock, first race with them this year. Pretty cool to do the Marcos Ambrose throwback, and put the stripe on the side with Marcos’ name on it. So, all good,” van Gisbergen quipped.

Van Gisbergen will now head to the next stop on the NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule, Charlotte Motor Speedway, and he heads there in possession of the 15th-place position in the championship standings. Sure, he hasn’t won, and he hasn’t completely lit the world on fire yet this season, but he’s quickly learning, and he’s improving behind the wheel of a NASCAR stock car week-by-week.

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