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International Drivers Relish Opportunity in Historic NASCAR Race at Indianapolis

With six international drivers in the field, Sunday's Verizon 200 at The Brickyard tied an all-time NASCAR Cup Series record for most foreign-born drivers in the field. While the drivers all had varying levels of success in the race, they all seemed to enjoy the experience in a stock car.


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SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Shane Van Gisbergen climbed out of his No. 91 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet, wiped his brow, and sat on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway pit wall following Sunday’s Verizon 200 at the Brickyard. Tired but pleased.

Van Gisbergen was unable to match his stunning victory on the Chicago Street Course this summer in his NASCAR debut, but the New Zealand native’s 10th place finish was best among a handful of highly-accomplished foreign drivers competing on the famous speedway’s 2.439-mile road course – tied for the most drivers born outside the United States to ever compete in a single NASCAR Cup Series race.

And while these aces are all more accustomed to driving into Victory Lane at the end of a race they all seemed relatively pleased with their stock car excursion this weekend – some happier than others, all glad they had the chance to make a start in NASCAR’s premier series.

“It was pretty tough, the guys were all on it and it was really fun racing up the front, but we just lost a little in some areas and myself making mistakes, but Top-10 is awesome,’’ Van Gisbergen said. “A little farther back than I would have liked but had a good race with Kyle [Larson] and Christopher [Bell] here. It was awesome.’’

Van Gisbergen’s fellow Supercars Championship competitor, Brodie Kostecki – finished 22nd. The Australian turned in an impressive debut performance in the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet after starting at the rear of the 39-car grid due to having to resort move to a back-up car after an accident in qualifying.

German driver Mike Rockenfeller, who just competed alongside seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and former Formula One champion Jenson Button in the Garage 56 entry at Le Mans, finished 24th at Indy. He drove the No. 42 Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet at Indy for Johnson’s team after it parted ways with driver Noah Gragson this week.

Button, who made his third NASCAR Cup Series start of the 2023 season, finished 28th in the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford and Japanese superstar Kamui Kobayashi finished 33rd in the No. 67 23XI Racing Toyota, his series debut.

It was an eventful day for both Button and Kobayashi, who were involved in a couple of racing incidents. Button was moved offline while racing this year’s Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hard with about 30 laps remaining, and then promptly returned the favor with a nudge to Stenhouse on the next lap. Similarly, Kobayashi was spun racing Stenhouse, having to spend the closing laps making his way back through the field.

“Guys fighting for position, crazy all the time, there was championship fighting all the way but I think it was a good experience for me,’’ said Kobayashi, a Le Mans and 24 Hours of Daytona winner and full-time World Endurance Racing (WEC) competitor.

“We come from a different place but honestly I have big respect for them.’’

The performances were well-received by both the fans who watched and fellow competitors, who enjoyed the rare opportunity to go door-to-door with some of the best in the world.

Billy Frazer, a 20-year-old native of Pukekohe, New Zealand, and an up-and-coming open-wheel racer attends college in Indianapolis and was among the nearly 100,000 fans attending Sunday’s race. Having the rare opportunity to cheer on Van Gisbergen and Kostecki, in particular, was something he didn’t want to miss. Their showings were something he took pride in.

A multi-podium finisher in the USF 2000 championship, he said he looks up to Van Gisbergen and has long admired IndyCar Series New Zealand drivers Scott McLaughlin and six-time series champion Scott Dixon, who won Saturday’s NTT IndyCar Series race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

“To watch him [Van Gisbergen] take on that next stage of running in NASCAR I think it’s unbelievable really and shows how much talent we have in our part of the world,’’ said Frazer, who like Van Gisbergen and Dixon won the New Zealand Formula Ford championship.

“As a junior driver coming up, it’s ultra-motivating. It’s a brilliant weekend and really inspires the country and the New Zealand motorsports scene.

“I think it’s fantastic how NASCAR’s been able to bring the likes of Jenson, Kimi [Raikkonen], and Kamui this weekend – all these different drivers from different disciplines and bring them into American racing,’’ Frazer added. “These NASCAR cars are so different and it’s been pretty cool seeing how Shane drives them.

“I guess it just shows how diverse racing is, that everyone can come race in America and have a real shot at winning. It’s just done so much good for NASCAR in our part of the world.’’

And it’s absolutely been reciprocal.

Van Gisbergen’s desire to race more in America – specifically in NASCAR - has been documented internationally now. And after the chance to go door-to-door with NASCAR’s best, it was a familiar theme Sunday afternoon. This won’t likely be the last time these international superstars appear on a NASCAR grid.

Asked if he would like to come back and race again in the NASCAR Cup Series, Kobayashi smiled.

“Definitely,’’ he said. “Hopefully soon, as soon as possible.’’

Photo Credit: Tyson Gifford, Racing America

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