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Road course ace van Gisbergen chalks up another Xfinity win in Chicago

Shane van Gisbergen put on a master class Saturday afternoon, winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series’ The Loop 110 at the Chicago Street Race. The New Zealander led early and, again, led late to claim his third consecutive series road course win and second race win on the 2.2-mile downtown Chicago streets.

Fans who experienced monsoon-like rains at last year’s inaugural NASCAR visit to the Windy City could not have asked for a more ideal summer afternoon on Saturday. People in the packed grandstands – nearly half taking in their first NASCAR event according to Chicago Street Race President Julie Guise — enjoyed blue skies, a comfortable breeze and temperatures in the mid-70s.

And they enjoyed a highly competitive spirited race, with van Gisbergen and Californian Kyle Larson dicing it up, door-to-door, front-fender to back bumper from the drop of the green flag and then van Gisbergen charging through the field to claim the lead again in the final laps.

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In the end, the 35-year old van Gisbergen got his No. 97 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet around Joe Gibbs Racing’s Ty Gibbs with two laps remaining and charged off to his series best third win of the year by a healthy 1.287s over Gibbs and Larson.

“That’s awesome, what a great race,’’ said a grinning van Gisbergen after kicking a rugby ball into the cheering crowd as is his established NASCAR victory celebration.

“It was pretty wild there at the end, but I can’t thank the Kaulig Racing guys enough. It was great racing to start with Kyle [Larson]. He was really good on the restarts and we made our car better with the second set of tires, but whooo, that was fun at the end passing all those guys. Had some great racing with everyone.’’

Van Gisbergen who also claimed road course wins at Portland and Sonoma, led 14 laps, as did Richard Childress Racing’s Jesse Love – most on the afternoon. Big Machine Racing’s Parker Kligerman finished fourth, his best result of the season, and Love was fifth.

The two champion drivers – Larson and van Gisbergen — set the tone immediately, exchanging the lead sometimes three and four times in a single lap from the drop of the green flag. Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion, led the first six laps and van Gisbergen, a three-time Australian Supercars Series champion who won last year’s inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race in Chicago, led the next nine laps to claim the Stage 1 win in the process.

 

“It was cool we were waving at each other, thumbs up,’’ Van Gisbergen said of racing Larson early. “Really respectful but big moves. He was amazing on the brakes and on the bumps. Really cool. I learned a lot and he probably learned a lot off me. Hope to race him again for the win tomorrow.’’

Larson, who will start from pole position in Sunday’s Grant Park 165 NASCAR Cup Series race, had been looking forward to the chance to race up front with van Gisbergen.

“I was having a blast,’’ Larson said. “Obviously I wanted to win today but I wanted to learn more than anything. I wanted to get to battle with him because he’s just really good at creating shapes and angles and passing. That was an objective of mine and the first opportunity I got, I wanted to get racing because I just didn’t know if I’d have another opportunity to race with him.

“My car seemed to be a little better than his for a lap or two which helped me get by him and was able to protect and stuff but he was so much better than me.’’

Varying pit stop strategies adjusted the field mid-race. Many – such as Love – pitted during the first stage break at lap 15. Van Gisbergen, Gibbs and Larson pit during a caution period later on lap 24. That shuffled the field putting those three early frontrunners playing catch-up in the closing laps.

With six laps to go and van Gisbergen making his way forward, his Chevy was hit from behind by Sam Mayer’s Chevy in the Turn 12 corner forcing van Gisbergen’s to scrape the wall. He fell off the bumper of then race leaders, Gibbs and Love, but stayed in the third position.

He got around the two with three laps remaining. Gibbs said looking back, he probably should have raced van Gisbergen a little more aggressively in the final laps

“We had a bad pit stop and I feel like I used my stuff up a lot to get back through the field,’’ said Gibbs, whose team had a problem on the tire change. “I’d say it would have been close in the end though.’’

Connor Mosack, Austin Hill, NASCAR Cup Series regular Joey Logano, Justin Allgaier and Austin Green rounded out the top 10. It was the first Xfinity Series start for Logano since 2019. It was the third top 10 in four career series starts for the 23-year old Green – all coming on road courses.

Last year’s Chicago race winner, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer, finished 18th after dealing with various issues throughout the afternoon, including a pit stop penalty. He now holds a 38-point lead over JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier in the standings. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Chandler Smith dropped to third place in the championship after finishing last – 38th – with an engine problem suffered only five laps into the race.

Van Gisbergen’s effort now gives him a series best 17 Playoff points and his three wins are most in the series this year.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series travels back east to Pocono (Pa.) Raceway for next Saturday’s Explore the Pocono Mountains 225 (3 p.m. ET, USA Network, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Hill is the defending race winner.

RESULTS

Story originally appeared on Racer