Chicago NASCAR Street Race a success? It is for Shane van Gisbergen, who wins first Grant Park 220

In his Cup debut, the New Zealander took the checkered flag in a wet, wild race that was delayed by a record-setting storm and eventually shortened from 100 to 75 laps to get to the end before darkness fell.

SHARE Chicago NASCAR Street Race a success? It is for Shane van Gisbergen, who wins first Grant Park 220
Shane van Gisbergen NASCAR Grant Park 220

Shane van Gisbergen celebrates his win at the first Grant Park 220 in Chicago.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Is the Chicago Street Race a hit? We’ll discuss and debate that for years to come.

But this is a no-doubter: Shane van Gisbergen is an instant sensation.

Van Gisbergen, a 34-year-old New Zealander, took the checkered flag Sunday in the NASCAR Cup Series’ first Grant Park 220 race and did so in — believe it or not — his own Cup racing debut.

That’s right: It was Cup race No. 1 in the career of van Gisbergen, who dominated the Supercars Championship series in Australia before making a jump that included — yes, indeed — moving from the right side of the car to the left.

In a wet, wild race that was delayed by a record-setting storm and eventually shortened from 100 to 75 laps to get to the end before darkness fell, van Gisbergen avoided all kinds of pitfalls — bumps, slippery spots, tire barriers and a gnarly Turn 6 at Columbus Drive and Balbo Drive; stalked an impressive list of drivers in front of him; and finally passed leader Justin Haley on Lap 70, bringing it home from there.

It was the first win by a Cup driver in his first race since Johnny Rutherford pulled off the feat in 1963.

Van Gisbergen hardly could believe it.

“No, of course not,” he said. “But you always dream of it. Man, what an experience. With the crowd out here, it was so cool. This is what you dream of.

“It was tough but a lot of fun. Anything is possible.”

NASCAR’s first foray into downtown Chicago nearly went into the books as a colossal failure. As it was, there’s a long list of things that went wrong, starting with Friday’s death of a contractor who was electrocuted while setting up for the races.

Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, the Loop 121, was postponed after 25 laps due to bad weather and washed away Sunday without a resumption. Sunday’s race time at first was moved up to beat the storm, then delayed when hours of heavy rain pummeled the lakefront. With one eye on the clock, sundown coming and the city’s street lights not nearly bright enough for a race, NASCAR first exhaled when the race became official at 45 laps and soon after lopped 25 laps off the back end.

Meanwhile, three of four concerts planned for this weekend’s festival were canceled, including the Charley Crockett and Miranda Lambert shows on Sunday. Those who bought tickets got a lot less bang for their bucks — in the racing department, too — than they’d been counting on.

Will the same fans be as eager to pony up for tickets in 2024 and 2025, when NASCAR comes back? In the end, they got a Sunday race that no one could call a total clunker. It was a good time and certainly a fascinating spectacle, but novelty only truly lasts once.

For now, it’s probably not wrong to describe Chicago and NASCAR as fair-weather friends.

And speaking of novelty, what van Gisbergen got done will be an enduring story in the stock car world. He has more experience driving stock cars in road races than the majority of Cup drivers, but he also clearly has some serious talent — more of it, one can only assume, than the Corvette owner who was arrested Saturday night after sneaking his car onto the course and taking an epic joyride.

“He’s no slouch,” said Kyle Busch, who finished fifth. “I knew he’d be good when he came over.”

A Haley win would have been a nice story. He grew up in Winamac, Indiana, less than 100 miles from Grant Park and from the Palmer House hotel, where his parents were married. Haley finished just short of what would have been his second Cup win and his first since he was a rookie in 2019.

But van Gisbergen winning topped any other outcome we might have seen — other than either of Michael Jordan’s 23XI drivers, Bubba Wallace or Tyler Reddick, doing the celebrating in Victory Lane. Van Gisbergen was the third driver in the field for Trackhouse Racing, joining teammates Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez behind the wheel of the No. 91 Chevy. Who’s the man on that team now?

Chase Elliott, who finished third, called van Gisbergen’s performance a “clinic.”

“He’s going to go home and tell his friends how bad we all are,” Elliott said.

Kyle Larson, who finished fourth, had a similar reaction.

“When a guy can come in and kick your ass at your own game, we’ve got a lot to work on,” he said. “I’m curious if he thinks we all suck or we can compete.”

And we’re left to wonder along the same lines: how does Chicago feel about NASCAR and this street-racing weekend to which the city is tied?

No, it didn’t suck. But can it compete successfully for our time, attention and goodwill?

See you again next year.

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