Before Shane van Gisbergen’s victory on the streets of Chicago, no driver had won his first NASCAR Cup Series start since 1963.
Trackhouse Racing Team teased the announcement of a new driver for their PROJECT91 NASCAR Cup Series entry a while back, noting that former Formula 1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen would not be behind the wheel of the No. 91 Chevrolet for its third appearance.
Raikkonen was PROJECT91’s first ever driver last August at Watkins Glen International, and he returned this past March at Circuit of the Americas.
Instead, they tabbed three-time Australian Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen to drive the car in the inaugural Cup Series street race in Chicago, Illinois.
The New Zealander qualified in an impressive third place, and he was even more impressive in the 78-lap race itself, contending early on and driving his way back to the front from the middle of the pack.
Following a pair of late passing maneuvers on Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley for the lead, he survived an overtime restart to win the race.
Entering the race weekend, van Gisbergen was a +7500 underdog at DraftKings Sportsbook, which is currently offering fans an instant $150 for betting $5.
Not since 1963 had a driver won his first NASCAR Cup Series start.
On only six occasions had that ever happened, and the first five occasions all happened in the sport’s first three seasons from 1949 to 1951.
It hadn’t happened since Johnny Rutherford won one of the pre-Daytona 500 races at Daytona International Speedway in 1963. For some historical context, these races are now known as the Duel races and no longer count as official Cup Series points races like they did six decades ago, even though points are awarded to the top 10 finishers.
Lone Star JR went on to compete in 35 Cup Series races, but he never won again.
Van Gisbergen does not currently have any other Cup Series starts lined up, and Trackhouse Racing Team have not yet announced any future plans for PROJECT91.
But suffice it to say that it would not be surprising to see the 34-year-old back in the No. 91 Chevrolet for the Justin Marks and Pitbull-owned team, even though it wouldn’t happen at a track where nobody else in the field has competed.