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Shane van Gisbergen Expects Field to Close the Gap in Defense of Cup Win at Chicago

Shane van Gisbergen shocked the world with a win in his NASCAR Cup Series debut last year in the Street Race at Chicago. While he knows he won't be flying under the radar, and that his competition will undoubtedly improve, SVG feels confident in his preparation and growth in a stock car.


hero image for Shane van Gisbergen Expects Field to Close the Gap in Defense of Cup Win at Chicago

A lot can change over the course of a year. In the last year, Shane van Gisbergen, he gone from Supercars legend to a one-off NASCAR Cup Series race starter, who had his name misprounounced by announcers during the race weekend at the Chicago Street Course.

By the end of that weekend, van Gisbergen was celebrating a win in his NASCAR Cup Series debut.

That win a year ago set off a chain of events, which led the 35-year-old to uproot his life, and chase a future in stock car racing. While he misses New Zealand, SVG says he couldn't be happier to be in the United States, and while many complain about the rigors of the NASCAR National Series schedule, van Gisbergen loves it.

"I miss New Zealand a lot for sure, but I love it here. I really enjoy my racing. I love racing every week. I love having a routine, knowing what I'm doing pretty much every day until November. That's exciting," van Gisbergen admitted. "I have two weeks off or three weeks in August, and I have no idea what I'm going to do. It's a weird feeling. I love this style of racing, the atmosphere, the schedule. Yeah, I'm loving every moment, and I definitely think I made the right choice."

As he heads into the defense of his NASCAR Cup Series win in last year's Grant Park 165, SVG now finds himself as a full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series racer for Kaulig Racing, and he's improved as the season has gone on. He has two wins on the season on road course tracks, which isn't surprising by any means, but he's also becoming a more and more consistent threat inside the top-15 on oval tracks.

It's pretty wild how much has changed, but the racer believes he is in a good position to succeed again this weekend as he is set to contest both the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Cup Series races through the streets of Chicago this weekend.

"It's cool, it's special to come back here," van Gisbergen said in a media availability on Friday. "As you asked, being here for a year, yeah it does have more meaning now knowing more how tough this series is and how good everyone is here. Yeah, we just had a dream run, but getting ready to try to do the same again. Preparation has been pretty good. Looking out there now, track looks amazing. The weather looks like it's going to be pretty good, which I'm excited for. Hopefully it's a good race weekend for everyone."

While van Gisbergen is confident in his abilities on road course, and especially street courses as they are commonplace in the Australia Supercars Series, he knows that the fierce competition in the NASCAR Cup Series will be much more ready to contend against him this time around. The series is too good not to expect that.

"I think for sure there will be more of them [in contention]," van Gisbergen explained. "There was a lot of guys that were fast, five or six fast guys last year. Especially in qualifying, there were some big laps. But this year, there's just going to be more. There's more guys with data. More guys have better setups learning what they learned last year. I think there's going to be a big chance there's going to be 10 to 15 guys. That's the best thing I find about NASCAR. It's not the same people every week. It's so competitive this series, and it's so tight."

Van Gisbergen isn't wrong. The margins in the NASCAR Cup Series since the adaptation of the Next Gen car in 2022 have been razor thin. But while his competition will undoubtedly comb through his SMT data from a season ago in an effort to pick up what they can from his driving style heading into Sunday's race, SVG says he has also become a better stock car racer since last Summer.

"I have learned a lot with the Cup car," van Gisbergen stated. "And I had a really good time at the wheel-force test at Sonoma. Where it was essentially my first test day in NASCAR. You don't really get to test much here. You're learning as you're racing. So, it was good to have two days and experiment with the car and the tire and push things. I went off track a couple of times just learning. And got to try different brake pads, and suspensions, and stuff like that. Got to learn what I liked and what I needed from the car. For sure, I'll be better this year too knowing what to expect, and what I want from the car. Last year's car wasn't perfect by any means, but yeah, I think we'll all be taking a leap forward, that's for sure."

Shane van Gisbergen has first-hand seen the benefits of SMT data as he's attempted to drink through a firehose in his learning process on oval race tracks this year. But the driver feels like enough of the things that he does from behind the wheel on a road course are unique enough that SMT data will not allow his competition to completely clone his driving style at Chicago or any other road racing facility.

“Yeah, the SMT stuff is amazing on the ovals, but I hate it on the road courses for that reason," van Gisbrgen laughed. "They can see what you’re doing. But yeah, I guess my brake technique is completely different, so it would be very hard for someone to switch over. Like for me on the ovals, I’ve never left-foot braked before. But you can’t really right-foot brake on an oval, so I’ve had to learn that technique. But if I tried to left-foot brake on a road circuit, I’d be miles off the pace. It’s such a different technique and way that you control the car into the corner. I do it with the clutch, they do it with the throttle. Yeah, it would be very hard for someone to just try and emulate what I’m doing, I think. You can still see gears, proximities, steering angles, stuff like that, and get most of the basic stuff down, I think.”

While he will have the confidence of knowing he's won a NASCAR Cup Series race at this street course layout in the past, SVG will have one disadvantage heading into the weekend. The racer is admittedly a quiet guy, who enjoys flying under the radar. After last year's performance in his series debut, there's no chance that the driver will be able to take the competition by surprise this time around.

"I certainly enjoyed last year. I'm kind of a quiet guy, so flying under the radar pre-weekend was awesome for me," van Gisbergen chuckled. "I could just focus on my job and do well at it. The media stuff is pretty overwhelming sometimes. Getting used to it, but yeah, I know for sure there's probably a target on us and people are going to be looking at us a lot more and studying what we're doing."

SVG will also have to weigh out what tips and tricks to share with competitors on rival teams and what to share with his Trackhouse Racing and Kaulig Racing teammates. On one hand, he wants to help others succeed, on the other, he can't give away all of his secrets.

“Yeah, obviously I’ve gotten a lot more questions this week," van Gisbergen noted. "But yeah, I don’t mind telling small things, but you’re not going to tell every secret, I guess. But I’m completely open to Daniel (Suarez), Ross (Chastain) and Zane (Smith) and whatever they ask. The track walk tomorrow, we’ll do that together maybe and try and talk things through. Those guys were fast in a lot of areas. Daniel was really quick last year in a lot of spots. But yeah, for sure, I don’t mind. I don’t mind helping those guys because I certainly ask a lot of questions the other way. But yeah, I’ll keep a little bit in the pocket because you want to win, as well.”

For SVG, another win in Chicago on Sunday very well could pave the pathway for the driver to be full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2025. The driver says he isn't getting too wrapped up in that possibility, as he'd rather focus on the task at hand, which is running well in both races this weekend, but he says a good result this weekend could certainly help those aspirations.

Who knows, when we reach July 4th weekend next year, we could be talking about how SVG has performed mid-way through his NASCAR Cup Series Rookie campaign. As we've seen, a lot can change in a year.

Photo Credit: Tyson Gifford, TobyChristie.com

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