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Van Gisbergen is a breath of fresh air for NASCAR

The pushing and shoving began in Turn 1 on the first lap of the double overtime attempt in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Circuit of The Americas. Austin Hill was the instigator, pushing Shane van Gisbergen toward the first turn and eventually pushing him out of the way to the race lead. A lap later, van Gisbergen did some pushing of his own on Hill’s back bumper and even caved in the nose of his Kaulig Racing Chevrolet.

Neither driver went to victory lane. Kyle Larson took advantage of their disagreement and drove past both of them, while van Gisbergen got the best of Hill off the final turn to cross the finish line second (before being penalized 30 seconds for cutting the course). Hill still seemed upset after the checkered flag, but eventually cooler heads – even if their views differed – prevailed by the time the field parked on pit road.

It was van Gisbergen’s first feud, if that’s even the right way to describe it, since coming to NASCAR.

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“That last restart, he just drove through me at (Turn) 1,” van Gisbergen told Fox Sports. “Yeah, I guess that’s how it is here. I just stood up for myself.”

Because van Gisbergen had a smile on his face, it was hard to tell how upset he truly was at the incident. But that’s what makes van Gisbergen such a fascinating character and a breath of fresh air in the NASCAR world.

Hill and van Gisbergen’s tussle handed the win to Larson (right). Matthew T. Thacker/Motorsport Images

He’s always smiling and seemingly having fun, whether it’s Superspeedway racing at Daytona, hybrid racing at Atlanta, experiencing the effects of aero at Las Vegas, giving an interview outside the infield care center, or answering any question thrown his way (including repeated ones about his transition to NASCAR) – van Gisbergen even smiles when facing cameras about having to get physical on the racetrack.

It’s a welcome sight and adds to the van Gisbergen experience. This time one year ago, van Gisbergen wasn’t even a thought in the NASCAR space, and he isn’t supposed to be here in the capacity that he is. Winning on the streets of Chicago with Trackhouse Racing last summer changed his career while giving NASCAR and its fans someone new to be fascinated with.

There is no denying van Gisbergen is delivering. There hasn’t been a return trip to victory lane yet, but he is quickly taking to his new environment. He earned three top-12 finishes in his first four races, and it would have been five had it not been for the penalty Saturday at Circuit of the Americas.

There is no reason not to want to watch van Gisbergen. No one can deny his talent or resume: van Gisbergen is a three-time Australian Supercars champion and a winner of the Bathurst 1000. He is fully capable of getting the job done in NASCAR and showcasing a new personality.