When Justin Marks envisioned Trackhouse, he wanted to create a brand that merged entertainment, racing and culture to provide outstanding content and tell great stories. All those qualities were in abundance with Shane Van Gisbergen’s astonishing victory in an epic event on the streets of Chicago on July 2 in the Grand Park 220. The New Zealander’s win in the PROJECT91 entry for Trackhouse was an historic moment as NASCAR celebrates its 75th Anniversary.
It was the first-ever street race in NASCAR Cup Series history and Van Gisbergen became the first driver to win in his first-ever NASCAR Cup Series race since Johnny Rutherford drove to victory at Daytona International Speedway on February 22, 1963 – 50 years ago. That was so long ago, victories in the Daytona 500 Qualifying races still counted as “official” NASCAR points races. It was the second-straight Sunday night that Trackhouse owner Justin Marks and Trackhouse President Ty Norris celebrated a NASCAR Cup Series victory.
To get a full impact of the surreal nature of the second-straight victory for Trackhouse, it came on day when it appeared there may not be any race at all. Nearly 9 inches of rain fell on the area of the race course for much of Sunday leading into the race. It flooded the race course and pit road because the temporary barriers actually allowed the water to collect as a pool. But diligent efforts by NASCAR, Chicago Street Race Organizers and the Chicago Park District were able to get the race course off to a delayed start under foreboding and gloomy skies.
The field of NASCAR Cup Series drivers were on rain tires, having to finesse their way around a street course on wet conditions. Those were perfect conditions for Van Gisbergen, a star driver in Australian Supercars with 80 victories and three Supercars championships. Racing high-speed race cars on street and road courses in all kinds of conditions is what Van Gisbergen does best and he proved that in the closing stages of Sunday’s race. Because of the late start and rainy weather, darkness was closing in on the 2.2-mile, 12-turn temporary street course that included Chicago’s famed Michigan Avenue, DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Columbus Drive, Balbo Street and Roosevelt Road.
The only lights were the permanent ornate street lamps that line the streets for everyday use. The race was originally scheduled for 100 laps, but at the conclusion of Stage 2, NASCAR officials announced to the teams that it would be shortened to 75 laps. About 10 cars had pitted prior to that announcement, and most of the field made their final pit stop after NASCAR shortened the race. That put Justin Haley, who had qualified last in the field, at the front and he could make it to the finish on the amount of fuel still in his tank. Van Gisbergen, who had qualified third, was shuffled back to 18th after his final pit stop. From that point forward, Van Gisbergen proved why he is an immense talent in international racing.
While many of the NASCAR Cup Series regulars were slipping and sliding and trying to hang onto their race cars on a track that had dried in most place, but remained damp in others, Van Gisbergen drove the PROJECT91 entry through the field. He was able to race his way to the bumper on Haley’s Chevrolet and that is when the packed crowd of 70,000 fans that had braved the elements saw some of the most thrilling action in NASCAR Cup Series history. Van Gisbergen passed Haley, but further back in the field, Martin Truex had spun out and crashed to bring out the yellow flag.
At the end of the race, Van Gisbergen passed Haley, who was briefly able to pass Van Gisbergen back, but when Van Gisbergen did an “over-under” move, he was able to take the lead for good and drive all the way to the stunning victory in the epic event. Van Gisbergen becomes the sixth driver born outside the United States to win a NASCAR Cup Series race joining Marcos Ambrose (Australia), Mario Andretti (Italy) Juan Pablo Montoya (Colombia), Earl Ross (Canada), and Daniel Suarez (Mexico).
“Thank you so much to the Trackhouse team and Enhance Health, Project91. What an experience in the crowd out here. This was so cool. This is what you dream of. Hopefully I can come and do more. When we had that back strategy back to 18th, I started to worry a bit but had some full stands on some people, and the racing was really good, everyone was respectful. It was tough but a lot of fun.”