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HomeSportsAuto RacingNAS News: Shane van Gisbergen's meteoric rise ushering in a new era

NAS News: Shane van Gisbergen’s meteoric rise ushering in a new era

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When it comes to drivers in the top three series of NASCAR, Shane van Gisbergen is the biggest anomaly in the garage.

A 35-year-old road course ace from Auckland, New Zealand, van Gisbergen stunned the circuit by winning in his NASCAR debut last summer in Chicago.

Van Gisbergen has since won two races in his rookie season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and sits 10th in points after 14 races. After his first win in the series at Portland on June 1, he captured his second consecutive win at Sonoma on June 8, pushing his way past Austin Hill on the race’s final restart.

In a sport where you must produce results as soon as you fire your engine, van Gisbergen has shown perhaps the most important quality in a modern-day NASCAR driver: being a quick learner. When going to tracks such as Richmond, Martinsville, Charlotte and Darlington for the first time, he hasn’t made any rookie mistakes, finishing top-15 in his debut races at each.

Not only has van Gisbergen learned quickly, but he has clearly applied what he’s learned on the racetrack. Of all major motorsports in the world, NASCAR may be the most physical, with contact not just being tolerated, but encouraged.

After getting moved late in the race at Austin, Texas earlier in the season by Hill, van Gisbergen repaid the favor on the final restart at Sonoma, moving him out of the way and taking the win for himself. Van Gisbergen even did a burnout in the face of Hill on the cooldown lap, proving he gives no quarter to his competitors, granted that they do the same to him.

Van Gisbergen certainly isn’t a dirty driver, but he isn’t one to roll over, either. Having a thick skin is crucial in NASCAR, especially in the Xfinity Series, where drivers are fighting for a potential Cup Series opportunity.

With van Gisbergen coming over from the Australian Supercars Series — a tour where he is an 80-time winner — many NASCAR fans thought back to the late 2000’s, when the so-called “Open-Wheel Invasion” of NASCAR took place.

That period saw many successful open-wheel drivers — names such as Dario Franchitti, Sam Hornish, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villenueve — start their NASCAR careers. While Montoya saw the gates of victory lane twice in the Cup Series, no other product of NASCAR’s Open-Wheel Invasion ever sustained a successful Cup Series career.

Therein lies the difference between Montoya, van Gisbergen and fellow Australian Marcos Ambrose — all of whom have won at the top level of NASCAR — and their fellow foreign competitors. Being able to learn and adapt to stock-car racing is one thing, but putting your on-track acumen on display successfully is another beast.

Van Gisbergen has successfully soaked up countless bits of information, a perk of driving for teams such as Trackhouse and Kaulig, and has access to invaluable coaching from the likes of AJ Allmendinger, Ross Chastain and Justin Marks.

With NASCAR’s Open-Wheel Invasion nearly two decades in the past, van Gisbergen has unintentionally started a new invasion of sorts himself. An Australian Supercar series invasion that has seen not just van Gisbergen, but Supercar stars such as Brodie Kostecki, Cam Waters and Will Brown all make Cup Series starts.

Kostecki made his Cup Series debut at the Indianapolis Road Course last August, while Brown and Waters made their respective Cup Series debuts at Sonoma. Van Gisbergen is the only driver of the four so far to ink a long-term deal, but exposing both NASCAR and Supercar fans to different disciplines of racing is beneficial to both parties, as it lets race fans experience different racing cultures from their living rooms.

It’s hard to imagine van Gisbergen winning races, starting rivalries and even involuntarily starting a new NASCAR “invasion” when he was yet to make a NASCAR start one year ago. But his meteoric rise to NASCAR star is just another reminder that great race-car drivers truly make all the difference.

NASCAR has seen champions that started their careers on dirt tracks, go-karts and even online. They’ve seen champions from both Carolinas, the Golden Coast of Carolina and the midwestern plains.

Now, it seems there’s a new NASCAR superstar in the making — but instead of being from a small town in the South or a skyscraper in the city, he’s a man of the people from New Zealand.

–Samuel Stubbs, Field Level Media

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