While Mother Nature threatened to put a damper on NASCAR's first-ever National Series street course race weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series Grant Park 220 delivered as one of the best races of the 2023 season, and it produced a surprise winner.
Shane van Gisbergen, who was making his NASCAR Cup Series debut for Trackhouse Racing, was the story of the race.
The 34-year-old legend of the Australian Supercars Series was calm and cool for the majority of the race. But when the chips were on the table, van Gisbergen flipped a switch.
The New Zealand native came to life on the final run of the race, as he clicked off the best lap of the race during the stretch, which was a sub-90-second lap around the 2.220-mile street course, as he ran down Chase Elliott and Justin Haley in the closing laps of the race.
On a restart with nine laps remaining, SVG got around Haley in Turn 2, and after Haley fought back a couple of Turns later, SVG finally powered around for good on the exit of Turn 5.
Even an overtime restart didn't have a chance of stopping SVG as he won by 1.259 seconds over Haley.
Did SVG expect to win in his NASCAR Cup Series debut?
"No, of course not, but you always dream of it," van Gisbergen said after the race. "Thank you so much to the Trackhouse team. And hands off to Project91. Man, what an experience and the crowd out here like this is so cool. That's what you dream of. Hopefully, I can come and do more."
With the stirring victory in his series debut, the question becomes will SVG head over to be a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver? The racer is certainly open to it.
"I'm doing one more year in [Australia] and then I'd love to come over here," van Gisbergen exclaimed in his post-race interview on NBC.
For Haley, a win would have given him an unexpected Playoff berth, but the driver of the No. 31 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet was just happy to get a good finish after damaging his car in Saturday's practice session.
"It was tough. I put it in the tire barrier yesterday. We stayed up all night, I stayed with the guys in the rain and re-wrapped this thing and put a new body on it," Haley explained. "Benesch [Law] came on for this weekend. Obviously, congrats to Project91."
While he was proud of the effort, Haley did admit that it stings missing out on a win.
"It sucks. Where we are right now, we aren't in a position to win every week," Haley stated. "Coming that close is not what you want, but just proud of everyone at Kaulig Racing."
While he may not have a chance to win each week, Sunday marked Haley's fourth top-10 finish of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, which ties his most top-10s in a season for his career.
With 18 races left in the season, Haley is almost sure to beat that number this year.
Behind the trio of van Gisbergen, Haley and Elliott were Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch in fourth and fifth.
For Busch, it was an incredible recovery, as he went windshield-deep into the Turn 6 tire barrier on Lap 3 to bring out the first caution of the race. Fortunately, for Busch, there was minimal damage to his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
Austin Cindric, Michael McDowell, Joey Logano, Ty Gibbs, and Chris Buescher rounded out the top 10 finishers in Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series street race.
Christopher Bell and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team left the race frustrated. While Bell led a race-high 37 laps and scored the Stage 1 and 2 wins, Bell limped home to an 18th-place finish after strategy mired him deep in the field late in the race.
The reason for the elevated frustration for Bell and his team was the fact that several drivers -- Haley and Elliott included -- decided to pit before the end of Stage 2, as they expected the race would not go the full 100-lap distance.
However, NASCAR wouldn't make the official call that the race distance would be shortened to 75 laps until after Stage 2 was completed. As a result, Bell and several others -- SVG included -- would get mired behind those that pitted before the end of Stage 2.
While van Gisbergen was able to recover, Bell was not as fortunate.
The main takeaway, aside from the rise of SVG as a supreme talent in a stock car, was that the NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen car on a Street Course worked, and worked well.
The race featured seven lead changes, and great action throughout the entirety of the race, and in the end we were treated to a fierce battle between van Gisbergen and Haley for the race win.
It took a lot of waiting through the lightning, heavy rains, and standing water, but the Grant Park 220 ended up proving to be a race worth waiting for.
Next up for the NASCAR Cup Series is a date with the 1.54-mile mini-superspeedway in Hampton, Georgia -- Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Quaker State 400 at Atlanta will take place on Sunday, June 9th and will be televised by USA Network beginning at 7:00 PM ET.
Photo Credit: Will Bellamy, Racing America