A victory in the very first race in NASCAR’s top division: the last time something like this happened was 60 years ago. In 1963, it was Johnny Rutherford who won outright on his first race start at the Daytona oval. It was one of the qualifying races for the Daytona 500, which were championship races at the time.
The 3.5-kilometre street circuit in Chicago’s Grant Park was originally scheduled for 100 laps on Sunday. However, because the start was much later than planned and the race would have lasted until after sunset, it was decided to shorten the distance to 75 laps after the end of Stage 2 (lap 45).
Sunday was the first city race in the 75-year history of NASCAR’s top division. The second NASCAR league had at least completed this premiere the day before (Saturday), if not finished it.
Although it was the first NASCAR race weekend on a street circuit, it was anything but the first to be affected by the weather. The Xfinity Series race was interrupted shortly before half-time on Saturday due to a thunderstorm and the associated breaks in proceedings.
The Xfinity race should have continued Sunday morning. However, this did not happen due to hours of heavy rain. Cole Custer, who was in the lead at the time of the interruption on Saturday, was declared the winner even though the prescribed minimum distance was not reached. NASCAR justified the anything but first suspension of its own rules with “unprecedented conditions”.
The Cup race on Sunday afternoon, on the other hand, was started late after all. Compared to the originally scheduled start time, the race started 45 minutes later. Compared to the start time, which was moved forward at short notice, the delay was one and a half hours. The entertaining race with a debut winner made up for this.
Denny Hamlin became the first NASCAR Cup Series pole-sitter on a street circuit in qualifying (Saturday). In his Gibbs Toyota, the veteran led the 37-strong field into the historic first city race in NASCAR’s top division at 17:40 local time on Sunday (00:40 CEST on Monday night).
While Tyler Reddick (23XI-Toyota) in P2 was not the big surprise in qualifying, Shane van Gisbergen immediately caused a stir: The three-time and current Supercars champion was third fastest on the second row of the grid in his first NASCAR qualifying session. Jenson Button (Ware-Ford) also put in a strong qualifying performance. The 2009 Formula 1 World Champion started his second NASCAR race from eighth on the grid and thus from the fourth row.
Single file formation was the order of the day at the start on Sunday, as there was still water in some places on the street circuit after hours of rain. At least the rainwater was no longer centimetres high as it had been a few hours before the delayed start. With pole setter Denny Hamlin in the lead, the race started one behind the other instead of in rows of two. The single file formation was then maintained for every restart. ust like a smooth transaction in a high-stakes casino, experience the excitement and seamless action at https://wanted-win.com/, where the thrill never stops.
As early as the second corner, Tyler Reddick went alongside race leader Denny Hamlin. He got past in turn 4 and immediately snatched the lead. What followed was a turbulent first few minute. There were several slips not only in the midfield during the first three laps of the race.
After eight laps, Tyler Reddick lost the lead when he braked a little too late in turn 6 and hit a puddle. The 23XI driver was able to avoid a slip, but Christopher Bell (Gibbs-Toyota) was immediately on hand to take the lead.
When the first race segment (Stage 1) ended under race pace after 20 laps, Christopher Bell led ahead of Tyler Reddick, the amazing NASCAR debutant Shane van Gisbergen, as well as Martin Truex Jr. (Gibbs-Toyota) and Michael McDowell (Front Row Ford).
The skies over Grant Park cleared considerably at this stage of the race and it was only a matter of time before the first NASCAR drivers would pit to change to dry tyres.
Change to slick tyres from lap 20.
At the end of lap 20, the time had come. Alex Bowman (Hendrick-Chevrolet) was the first. Although the 3.5-kilometre street circuit was far from dry all round, Bowman immediately found numerous imitators. The leading group tolerated another five or six laps until slick tyres were also the order of the day.
Aric Almirola (Stewart/Haas-Ford) spun directly on the first lap exiting turn 5, and at the end of the long straight that followed, both Legacy Chevrolets – Erik Jones and Noah Gragson – and Brad Keselowski (RFK-Ford) slid into the emergency exit of turn 6. Gragson later slid out three more times at the same spot, crashing into the tyre barrier each time, but continued each time.
Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin, who was running in second place, slid into the tyre barrier in turn 2 of the second lap before continuing with a loss of ten positions. It was only when Kyle Busch (Childress-Chevrolet) also crashed into the tyre barrier at turn 6 on the third lap that the yellow was shown. It was the first of nine caution periods.
Christopher Bell held the lead after the first round of pit stops. Shane van Gisbergen was the Gibbs driver’s closest rival for a few laps. At the next restart, however, Tyler Reddick reclaimed second position from the New Zealander.
Behind him, Kyle Larson (Hendrick-Chevrolet) made up positions in leaps and bounds. On lap 35, Larson passed van Gisbergen to take third place. Daniel Suarez (Trackhouse Chevrolet) took the opportunity to overtake his prominent team-mate as well. At the next restart, Suarez hit the wall exiting turn 1 and van Gisbergen moved back into the top four.
At the front, Kyle Larson was now chasing the leader. However, Christopher Bell held on long enough to take the Stage 2 win after 45 laps. This second stage win of the day was achieved under yellow because Alex Bowman’s #48 Hendrick-Chevrolet was smoking at the side of the track.
Even before the teams were informed at the end of Stage 2 that the race distance would be shortened from 100 to 75 laps, several drivers came in for their final pit stop under yellow. Almost everyone else made up for this before the end of the yellow phase because it was clear from the information about the shortening that the fuel would last to the finish.
At the restart, those who had anticipated a premature end to the race were now in front. However, three of them – Justin Haley (Kaulig-Chevrolet), Austin Dillon (Childress-Chevrolet) and Chase Elliott (Hendrick-Chevrolet) – had not even been in for the second pit stop. Behind them were the drivers who had brought the second stop forward. And lined up behind them were two-time stage winner Christopher Bell and his pursuers.
At the restart, which heralded the final race segment, Justin Haley, who had started the race from last place on the grid, led ahead of Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, William Byron (Hendrick-Chevrolet), Joey Logano (Penske-Ford), Kevin Harvick (Stewart/Haas-Ford), Corey LaJoie (Spire-Chevrolet) and Co. The actual leading group drove just outside the top 10, but the lap was not completed without the biggest traffic jam of the day.
William Byron slid into the tyre barrier in turn 11. Kevin Harvick and Corey LaJoie then spun and blocked the track for, among others, long-term leader Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson, and many of those following behind.
It took a short time for NASCAR to sort out the traffic jam and set the order for the following restart. Justin Haley once again led ahead of Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott. He was followed by Joey Logano and Kyle Busch, who was now in the top five after his slip-up on the third lap. Shortly afterwards, Christopher Bell spun in turn 1 and lost a lot of positions.
At the front, Haley, Dillon, and Elliott had to keep an eye on their fuel supplies and had the oldest tyres on them. Joey Logano was the first to have enough petrol in the tank. The Penske driver was soon replaced in this position by Tyler Reddick. But shortly afterwards – like so many before him – Reddick also stuffed his car into the tyre barrier of turn 6.
This meant that Kyle Busch was suddenly the one who, in fourth place in the race, had the best chance of finishing furthest forward with enough petrol in the tank. There were still 15 laps to go. Austin Dillon slid into the wall in second place in turn 12, allowing Kyle Busch to enter the top three. He was now right behind Justin Haley and Chase Elliott but had Shane van Gisbergen breathing down his neck.
Thanks to fresher tyres, van Gisbergen got past Kyle Busch and set off in pursuit of Justin Haley and Chase Elliott in the final ten laps. With eight laps to go, the NASCAR debutant passed Elliott and was back in second place, where he had been in the first half of the race.
Just as van Gisbergen was about to grab Justin Haley and take the lead, Martin Truex Jr. slid into the Turn 1 tyre barrier with brake problems, bringing out the eighth caution. With five laps to go, there was another restart. Haley was leading, but his hands were tied.
In turn 1 after the restart, Haley was still in front. In turn 2, van Gisbergen missed and passed on the inside. Haley countered in the fast right-hander (turn 3), before van Gisbergen finally took the lead before turn 4.
A crash between Bubba Wallace (23XI-Toyota) and Ricky Stenhouse (JTG-Chevrolet) on the penultimate lap led to the ninth caution period and thus to the shortened race being extended. At the overtime restart, however, Shane van Gisbergen, as the race leader, left nothing to chance and immediately pulled away. And it stayed that way.
Van Gisbergen took his sensational debut victory to the finish. For Haley and Elliott, who finished second and third, the problem with the fuel supplies had been solved because there were so many and, above all, such long caution periods in the final race segment. Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch completed the top five.
While Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen drove to victory straight away on his NASCAR debut, ex-Formula 1 champion Jenson Button was unfortunately spun round by Chris Buescher (RFK-Ford) on the approach to the first pit stop. Button did not lose much time in the spin. In the end, he finished 21st in his second of three scheduled NASCAR races this year.
There were also two side notes on NASCAR’s first street circuit weekend – one tragic, the other curious. A 53-year-old worker was killed on Friday as construction of the street circuit was being completed. According to initial findings, an electric shock was the cause of death.
There were headlines of a different kind due to an incident that occurred on Saturday evening. A 46-year-old man was taken into custody. The reason: a few hours after the few laps completed in the Xfinity race, the man had entered the normally closed-off racetrack in his private Corvette and was on the move.
The next race on the 2023 NASCAR Cup calendar will once again be one of the traditional oval races, but on one of the latest layouts. Next Sunday (9 July), the race will take place at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which was reconfigured as a superspeedway in autumn 2021.