NASCAR Grant Park 220 Recap – Newcomer Wins New Type of Race

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

nascar grant park 220 recap newcomer wins new type of race

Shane van Gisbergen may not have much NASCAR experience -- he was making his first-ever start on Sunday in Chicago at the Grant Park 220 -- but he has plenty of street-race experience. And it showed.

Showed in a big way, as the New Zealand native took home the trophy in the first-ever NASCAR race on the streets of Chicago, which was also the first-ever NASCAR street race.

I actually asked van Gisbergen about his experience as a street racer on Saturday. Before I tell you what he said, this is where I admit my embarrassing moment. I know most NASCAR drivers and what they look like, but not all of them, and I briefly mistook him for ex-Formula 1 driver Jensen Button, the other driver in the field with extensive street-race experience. So when I wandered over to van Gisbergen during the media session after practice/qualifying on Saturday, I asked a question about his street-racing experience, thinking for a second, before I spotted the name on the racing suit, that I was speaking to Button.

Luckily for me, van Gisbergen also has a lot of street-race experience, thanks to his time in Australian Supercars.

"I can imagine so," van Gisbergen told me when I asked if his experience helped him. That would turn out to be an understatement.

He was in eighth place in the rain-delayed/rain-shortened race when it restarted on lap 61 after a caution and pretty soon he was passing Justin Haley for the lead on lap 71. The race had been shortened from 100 laps/220 miles to 75 laps/165 miles due to extreme rain in Chicago, though a late caution forced overtime.

Bubba Wallace tangled with Ricky Stenhouse in Turn 1 on lap 74, leading to overtime. The race ended after lap 78.

Van Gisbergen crossed the line 1.2 seconds ahead of Haley, who had started the race dead last after a practice crash. The New Zealander had pitted at lap 47 along drivers like Christopher Bell, who had been one of the dominant drivers in the race, and when he left the pits he was 18th. That would change.

Third-place finisher Chase Elliott benefitted from NASCAR's call to shorten the race. NASCAR made the call around the halfway mark and did so because the record-breaking day of rain had delayed the start enough that the race would have to be truncated in order to avoid having drivers compete in the dark.

As predicted by pundits and drivers, the Chicago street course was tricky, thanks to its narrow width. With the walls so close, mistakes meant contact with the concrete barriers. And the rain meant that the streets were slick, especially the concrete sections.

I missed some of the carnage since I was moving around to snag pics, but I saw Kyle Busch make friends with the rubber out of the corner of my eye not long after I watched Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski, and Noah Gragson slide into the tires in turn 6.

Other key wrecks included pole-sitter Denny Hamlin finding the tire barrier near Turn 2 on the second lap, the multi-car pileup in the above-linked video, Aric Almirola spinning on the first lap, Noah Gragson's continued misadventures, and Bell spinning into a barrier.

The rain was obviously a part of this, and while some mishaps happened after the track dried it did appear that the chaos had mostly subsided. One thing I noticed is that even in the dry, both the Xfinity cars and the Cup cars tended to get a bit tail-happy, though it was more noticeable with the solid-rear-axle Xfinity cars.

The drivers did seem to be happy with the track overall -- rain aside. Haley said he couldn't wait to come back next year. Elliott said that aside from the rain, the event was a "home run."

As for van Gisbergen, he said the track was "very intimidating" thanks to long straights followed by 90-degree corners with no runoff. He was also trying to feel out how NASCAR drivers race.

"I probably was a bit too nice to some people," he said. He said he didn't even know the paint schemes of his competitors and he was reading the names on windshields as he came upon cars.

Now everyone knows his name.

[Image, video © 2023 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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3 of 8 comments
  • Syke Syke on Jul 03, 2023

    I'm married to a former NASCAR junkie, we did both Richmond races every year for about six years (the interest died when Junior retired - her - and Danica called it a day - me), and although I learned to dislike NASCAR short tracks, I never could take the series seriously due to their complete unwillingness to race in the rain.

    C'mon, I've watch MotoAmerica Superbike at VIR carry on thru a decent shower, and MotoGP in a downpour is incredible to watch. And these porky monsters can't deal with wet tracks (yes, I know, the way the overweigh car will chew thru rain tires is a major factor)?

    Then I sit down Sunday and watch them race thru the puddles. Damn, I may have to start taking these guys seriously.

    Less short tracks and Talledegas. More road courses.

  • Styles Styles on Jul 03, 2023

    As a one-eyed kiwi, I'm not in the least surprised. "The Gizz" as we call him is a hugely talented driver. Doesn't matter what you put him in, Supercar, Rally, Sprint car, he's a weapon in anything with wheels.

    • Alan Alan on Jul 04, 2023

      @Styles, he seems to follow the dollars which is good for him.

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