Shane van Gisbergen, the inaugural winner of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Chicago Street Race, met with the media in advance of racing double duty in the NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series at the Chicago Street Course. 

Media Availability Quotes:

As you were flying into Chicago, do you kind of get a really good vibe? Do you like looking down and seeing it considering what happened last year? Secondly, more importantly, now that you’ve had more experience in NASCAR and have been a part of this, does it make what you were able to accomplish last year in the Cup Series even a bit more amazing or a really feel good moment for you when you think about what you did?  

“Yeah, it’s cool. I’m not much of a city person.. there’s not enough grass here for me (laughs). I guess we’re racing in a park, which is cool. But yeah, I prefer the countryside and getting away from people. But yeah, it’s cool. It’s special to come back here. As you asked, being here for a year, yeah it does have more meaning now knowing how tough this series is and how good everyone here is. We just had a dream run and we’re ready to try and do the same again. The preparation has been pretty good. Looking out there now, the 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.”

You didn’t get to experience double-file restarts here last year. Now that you’ve gotten to experience them some in Cup, what have your impressions of it been, and how do you think it’ll impact this race?

“Yeah, I think here, it’s a little different with where it’s placed. You kind of get going just before the last corner, so it’s a huge advantage to be the first guy because you’ll be clear by the exit. But yeah, if you’re third row back, it’s going to be carnage.. not carnage, but difficult to stay clean through there. Yeah, I think that worked out pretty well last year. But this year, it’s going to be tough. I watched the Xfinity Series race – they go through it very cleanly, but the outside guy lost positions every time. So it’s going to be a fight to be on the right-hand side and try to not give too much up to get there, I think. But yeah, looking forward to that. I think it’ll be different than on the ovals. On the ovals, it’s crazy the way everyone races here; takes 50-50’s. They pretty much take all 50-50’s and get involved in a crash or they don’t. So I’m a bit more reserved, at the moment, for that, I think.”

Last year, this is obviously what got the ball rolling. You win this race and suddenly you’re racing full-time in NASCAR months later. When you look ahead to Sunday, are you looking at it as potentially – hey, if I can repeat, win and have all the spotlight and attention on me, that can really kind of solidify my future even more in NASCAR, in terms of the Cup path that you want to pursue?

“No, I don’t think like that, but it would probably certainly help; getting a good result both days and showing I can keep running upfront on road courses. But I’m not trying to put pressure on myself, you know saying ‘I have to win to get into Cup next year’, you know? But certainly a good result will help that, yeah.”

Last year, Kyle Larson was marveling on the move you made on Justin Haley to win. Can you take us through that move again, and are you anticipating that you won’t be able to make that move in year two because people will have figured out that it’s coming?

“Yeah, I think I did the same thing at COTA on someone. But to me, it’s normal (laughs). I see stuff that Kyle Larson does on ovals and I go – what the hell.. how did he do that? So it’s relative, right? It’s what I’ve always been used to with this kind of racing and making moves like that. On the ovals, people are doing stuff to me and I’m like – how did he come up with that or know that I was going to do the opposite? So yeah, it’s kind of just that I need to get better at the oval stuff and they’re going to keep getting better at the road course stuff, as well, I guess.”

Anytime you can get laps at a course, you’re going to be improved the next time come back. So for Sunday, how much do you anticipate the Cup field sort of closing the gap to you? Also for you, doing double-duty on Saturday, your experiences in the Cup car, which generally handles way better on these types of tracks than the Xfinity car does? Can that in any way be a disadvantage for whatever your Saturday might look like?

“The car difference is huge, but laps and reps overcomes that by so far, especially what we’re going to be doing tomorrow morning, the track is going to be completely different from how the Xfinity race finishes. So getting to experience that is going to be a huge head start for Sunday, which is why so many Cup guys are probably in that Saturday race. Just get reps; get comfortable with the walls on both sides of the car. This racing is so different from anything we do all year, so yeah I think for sure that doing both classes is going to be more of an advantage than a disadvantage.

I think for sure that there will be more of them. There were a lot of guys that were fast; five or six fast guys last year. Especially in qualifying, there were some big laps. This year, there’s just going to be more guys with data; more guys will have better setups with learning what they did last year. I think there’s a big chance that there will be 10 or 15 guys. That’s the best thing I find about NASCAR.. it’s not the same people every week. This series is so competitive and so tight, but hopefully it’s us that’s in there, as well.”

It’s been a year and obviously there’s a lot of things that have changed in your life. Is there anything you miss? What are the biggest notices you have now versus being here last year? Like I said, do you miss being home because you completely upended everything?

“I miss New Zealand a lot, for sure. But I love it here. I really enjoy racing. I love racing every week. I love having a routine and knowing what I’m doing pretty much every day until November.. that’s exciting. I have three weeks off 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 people and the schedule. Yeah, I’m loving every moment. I definitely think I made the right choice. I feel like it’s a really cool place for me; being welcome by everyone, whether it’s team people, drivers and the fans. It’s been really cool to see how welcoming everyone is and I’m really enjoying it.”

There’s a lot of talk about the field catching up to you with more experience, but you also have more experience here in NASCAR. So whatever advantages they gain, are you also gaining an advantage too because you have all this experience now?

“Yeah, for sure. Like I have learned a lot with the Cup car. I had a really good time at the wheel force test at Sonoma, which it was essentially like 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; experiment with the car, the tire and push things. I went off-track a couple of times, just learning. Got to try different brake pads, suspensions, stuff like that. So yeah, 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.”

Last year when you came in, maybe everyone wasn’t super familiar with you and didn’t know what you could do. So having said that, this year, is there a slightly different vibe? People know that this is the guy that’s setting the standard, so do you expect it to race differently?

“I’m not sure about that, but I certainly enjoyed last year. I’m a pretty quite guy, so flying under the radar pre-weekend was awesome for me. I just focused on my job and do well at it. Yeah, the media stuff is pretty overwhelming sometimes, but I’m getting used to it. But yeah, I know for sure that there’s probably a target on us. People are going to be looking at us a lot more and try to study what we’re doing. But yeah, just have to keep our heads down and expectations in check. Our prep has been good with all the Kaulig Racing guys, and then obviously some Trackhouse Racing input, as well. So yeah, I feel ready to go and prepared. Just have to go out there and do it.”

You said you enjoyed flying under the radar. Like when you look back on it, the announcers could barely announce your name. You had the drivers, even after the race, be like – I didn’t really know this guy before. Was there anything in the back of your head like there was a little bit of disrespect here.. like I’m a three-time Supercars Champion.. nothing like that?

“No, not at all. I think the funniest one was – Brad Keselowski had a tweet afterwards. We must have done the track walk next to each other and he goes – ‘did the track walk and had no idea who this guy is, but now I do’ or whatever. I found that pretty funny. But yeah, it’s hard, especially in this series – when you’re racing every weekend, it’s hard to have the blinkers off and watch other racing. You’re so engrained in what you’re doing and focused on yourself. I wasn’t angry or disappointed in them at all. It was cool to just come in, but that changed pretty quick after practice and qualifying, I guess.”

Last year, you were in the PROJECT91 car for Trackhouse Racing. This year, you’re in a Kaulig Racing entry for Sunday. You said you were going to have some input from Trackhouse, but can you just address that? Will there be much of a difference, or are you anticipating anything begin different with the car?

“I guess that’s the beauty of both. We had the teams that were first and second last year having input this year, which is awesome. Travis Mack, who is the crew chief on the car this weekend, he was at Trackhouse last year. So it works really well, already having that relationship setup. It’s been good on all the ovals we’ve done, so far. Yeah, Travis has been at the shop most days this week to help prepare the car; make sure it’s right. It went into the Kaulig truck to get here and those guys will run it all weekend. It’s a real combined effort. It was a little messy, maybe, at COTA.. it could have been better. But every week, the relationship has gotten better and better, the more races we do. Yeah, really confident with how it all works now.”

What’s your knowledge of this track at this point?

“Yeah, street courses are different every year, no matter where you go. Like the barrier locations are always different, depending if they put them inside the curb or on top of it. The track always changes. I haven’t walked around yet.. I’ll do that tomorrow morning. Basically, I’ll just be trying to look at all of the barrier locations on apex and exits, just to see the differences with how the barriers are lined up and stuff. I hear there are some resealing, as well. I haven’t been there yet, but basically the corner directions are the same, but there’s always small differences. And then with only two classes on track and a year’s worth of traffic in between each race, it’ll be really interesting. The track didn’t really ramp up until the end last year when it dried up, so it was like a reset. Whereas if it’s dry all weekend, the track will be completely different. But it should be a good race track. There should be a lot of passing, if it’s completely dry. There’s great passing zones here for a street race. Hopefully it’s exciting”

What is that like now, instead of getting the knowledge, you’re giving it to your competitors?

“Yeah, obviously I’ve gotten a lot more questions this week. 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.”

How much was there the openness among Supercars? Is that universal or something that is kind of different?

“No, it’s pretty similar there. The Supercars guys, they’re all good guys. You still keep separate, but everyone is pretty fun. You talk about it a little bit, but between manufacturers, it’s not as open as it is here, I guess.”

How do you deal with changing expectations from week-to-week.. going from ovals, where you’re still learning and not having much expected of you at this point of your career, versus going to a road or street course, where you’re automatically expected to contend for the win?

“Yeah, good question. I kind I had just been letting the road course stuff happen this year and not focusing on it as much because like I just know I’ll be good there. I do the usual preparation, but I don’t do more. Whereas with the ovals, I try to study as much as I can with SMT, previous races, onboards.. I’m trying to soak in as much as I can. I’m really focusing on getting better on the ovals, and I feel like I have. At Iowa, I made some errors and had a bad weekend. But I feel like it’s been a pretty steady progress. And then Nashville was the most comfortable I’ve felt on the ovals. I feel like I’ve said that the last few ovals that I’ve run, so certainly moving forward; getting better, more competitive. I’m racing around some pretty good guys, I feel like. But yeah, the road stuff just comes.. it’s almost like a holiday on a road race weekend for me. I can relax and have some fun.”

After watching film and going through those emotions from the race, what were some drivers that you feel like are going to be your biggest challengers this weekend?

“Yeah, again, there are so many guys in this series that if they hit it, they can be on. There’s 10 or 15 really good road racers now, and then the rest of the field aren’t slugs either. It’s pretty impressive how competitive everything is. And especially how much road racing there is now, everyone has gotten good at it. Yeah, I really enjoy racing – I think it was Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Kyle Larson last year.. all of us at the start and just seeing how comfortable they were; their proximity to the barriers and how much they were pushing in the wet. I remember being pretty conservative in the wet and let them through a little bit at the start. It was pretty cool to watch those guys. They’re relatively inexperienced at this stuff and they were pushing pretty hard. It was cool to watch. Yeah, I think it will be those guys, for sure, up front. I think it was Denny (Hamlin) who was on the pole, as well. He was going really well. He hit the wall, unfortunately early, but he was fast, too.”

With everyone having your SMT data, can they copy what you do.. is it that simple? Or do you feel like all your years of experience.. they can look at it, but it’s going to take them awhile for them to be able to do what you do..

“Yeah, the SMT stuff is amazing on the ovals, but I hate it on the road courses for that reason (laughs). 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.”

You came and ran this race last year. You mentioned that heading into it, you weren’t really well known over here. You go out, whip the field and win the race. Did you ever envision last year that it would ever translate to what you’re doing now.. full-time racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the opportunity in the NASCAR Cup Series in coming years?

“Not at all. It was just a one-off race at that point. As I said, I went to Nashville the week before, a year ago now, and just opened my eyes to how cool the racing was; how open it was for everyone. I took my dad there last week.. he’s come over for the weekend. We were just standing right on the pit wall as the guys were doing their pit stops. I was dropping him at the corporate suite.. he didn’t like the heat, so he wanted to get to the air conditioner. But we stood on the backstretch on the way out and we just walked right up to the fence on the side of the track. I don’t know if we should have done that, but we were standing right by the inside wall right when the cars were going past. The experience here is awesome. We both had a little moment, without saying anything, how cool it is here. Yeah, we’re all really, really enjoying it. It’s been a huge 180 for me, my life and my career. But yeah, I’m having the time of my life.”

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