CHICAGO — Shane van Gisbergen made NASCAR Cup Series history as he became the first driver in the modern era to win in his series debut.
Van Gisbergen is the first debut winner since Johnny Rutherford at Daytona in 1963. It’s also the first time the No. 91 car won since Tim Flock in 1953 and first time since Mark Donahue at Riverside in 1973 that a ringer won in the series.
The Kiwi also joined Mario Andretti (Italy), Earl Ross (Canada), Juan Pablo Montoya (Colombia), Marcos Ambrose (Australia) and Daniel Suarez (Mexico) as one of six foreign-born Cup Series winners.
The Australian Supercars champion was fastest in practice and qualified third.
Early in the race, he excelled in the rain but bided his time behind Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick.
Then, after NASCAR declared the race shortened to 75 laps at lap 47, van Gisbergen survived where the others faltered.
He tore through the field, jumping from 18th to second during a seven-lap green-flag run after a huge wreck in turn 11 and a nine-lap run after Reddick and Bell wrecked on lap 60.
Right as van Gisbergen was about to take the lead from Justin Haley on lap 69, the caution fell.
Nerves surrounded the front few but nerves of steel prevailed for van Gisbergen as he took the lead with five to go and survived an overtime to get his first NASCAR Cup Series win.
It’s the first time in the modern era where a driver won in their debut race.
“Right now, I’m still soaking this in but I’m sure this is going to rank up there other wins I’ve had in Supercars,” van Gisbergen said.
Van Gisbergen is a three-time Australian Supercars champion and won the 2020 Bathurst 1000, their premier race.
Marks selected van Gisbergen to race after getting sponsor Enhance Health’s blessing and funding.
Darian Grubb used his experience with the likes of Cup Series champions Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart to boost the Supercars champion.
“His focus and determination is on-par with any of them. After Nashville [when we won], he left early and didn’t go out partying with us. He was putting in time and was focused and just wanted to learn more,” Grubb said.
Van Gisbergen’s hard work paid off as he beat Justin Haley, who fiercely led 23 laps on old tires and finished second.
In his previous 89 starts, he led just 49 laps total and led no more than 19 laps in a single race.
“We’re not a manufacturer-supported team to some extent. I got 20 minutes of sim time before this race & it was Thursday night. What we’ve done at Kaulig shows how the car leveled the playing field. I can’t imagine how much time Shane [van Gisbergen] got. Second-place is good, especially with contract talks coming,” Haley said.
The full top 10 is as follows: Van Gisbergen, Haley, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Austin Cindric, Michael McDowell, Joey Logano, Ty Gibbs, Chris Buescher.
Busch brought out the first caution after nosing into the tire barrier in turn six on lap 4.
Turn six was an issue for Noah Gragson who brought out the caution twice there on laps 15 and 33.
Alex Bowman struggled, beginning with a spin and stalled on lap 42. Then, he blew an engine on lap 46. Those each brought out the caution.
The second Bowman caution changed the complexion of the race, setting up a shortened distance call and a massive track-blocking wreck in turn 11 on lap 50.
William Byron went wide, causing Kevin Harvick and Corey LaJoie to spin, jamming up everyone behind them.
Tyler Reddick, who led eight laps and dominated the early porton of the race, had his chances end on lap 59 when he hit the turn six tire barrier while running fourth.
During the subsequent run, Austin Dillon made a run at Justin Haley. However, with 14 laps to go, he hit the inside wall in turn 12 and smashed the outside wall. That damaged Dillon’s car and put him out of the race on lap 62.
The last cautions fell on lap 69 for Martin Truex Jr. spinning in turn one and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Bubba Wallace wrecking on lap 74.
The next race for the NASCAR Cup Series is the July 9 Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET; TV: USA; Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).