New Zealand’s Shane van Gisbergen says phone call led to one-off NASCAR race, Sprint Cup victory

Shane van Gisbergen_posst-race_img.
New Zealand native Shane van Gisbergen speaks to assembled media Sunday following his historic Grant Park 220 victory at NASCAR’s Chicago Street Race Weekend. (Zain Bando/MEDILL)

By Zain Bando
Medill Reports

Shane van Gisbergen held back tears after conquering Chicago’s first-ever NASCAR street race in Grant Park Sunday. The Grant Park 220 overtime victory made van Gisbergen the first driver since Johnny Rutherford in 1963 and the seventh all-time to win a Sprint Cup Series race in his NASCAR debut.

Van Gisbergen will forever be known as a ringer. He said he jumped at the opportunity to compete in the U.S., even if it meant getting out of his comfort zone as a traditional Australian Supercars driver.

As part of the Trackhouse team, van Gisbergen paired up with owner Justin Marks’ Project 91, which gives non-full-time drivers exposure and showcases the best international talent to ride stock cars in the sport’s biggest races. The collaboration dates back a year when NASCAR announced it was coming to Chicago.

“It’s something I guess you dream about,” van Gisbergen said. “As Justin was saying when he first approached me about it, he said it could happen and I’m on the shortlist. When he gave me that call, it was pretty special.”

Van Gisbergen sat beside his inaugural Grant Park 220 trophy, beaming proudly at a career milestone.

“It’s obviously pretty high,” van Gisbergen said. “Supercars is my dream, and winning that championship and races like that over there. That’s still top of the list, but to come and do this, I don’t know where it ranks yet. It’s still sinking in, but it’s obviously one of the most special victories I’ve ever had.”

Van Gisbergen, 34, is a three-time Australian Supercars champion. His U.S. return was almost derailed Sunday when he and 36 other drivers nearly didn’t race due to inclement weather in Chicago. Heavy rain delayed the event until 5:35 p.m. 

Before competing in Chicago, van Gisbergen had limited experience in high-profile American racing, most notably in 2015’s 24 Hours of Daytona, where he finished second.

Van Gisbergen said adapting and relearning NASCAR’s format was an adjustment. Regardless, he said he felt well-prepared as race time drew closer, even when it came to off-track obligations.

“I miss racing in the States,” van Gisbergen said. “I’ve done Daytona four or five times now, and just the way the American people are and how they go racing, it’s so much more enjoyable. Even doing the media stuff, which I hate, everyone here is really nice. They ask good questions and they’re respectful. It goes both ways.”

Justin Haley finished in second place and said van Gisbergen’s performance was closer than people may give Haley credit for. The race came down to the last few laps as van Gisbergen overtook Haley just before approaching victory lane.

“I don’t feel like he pulled away from me,” Haley said. “I feel like I held my own on the green-white-checkered (flag) especially.”

Haley added he was outsmarted late, but the outcome could have been much different if he had more street race experience similar to van Gisbergen’s pedigree.

“It’s his race to lose,” Haley said. “So, like I said, as a driver, you don’t want other forms of motorsport drivers to come in and beat you at your own game like Kyle (Busch) said, but unfortunately, he’s just really good. This was my first street race, and I can’t imagine how many he has raced. I have nothing bad to say.”

For now, van Gisbergen said his main focus is competing in Supercar races back home. Despite that, he isn’t ruling out a stateside return.

“In ’25, who knows?” van Gisbergen said.

Zain Bando is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter (@zainbando99) and add him on LinkedIn here.