NEWTON, Iowa – As Shane van Gisbergen he won in his first NASCAR Cup Series game on the streets of Chicago, three-time Australian Supercars co-champion and New Zealand native Scott McLaughlin choked back tears.
Despite their very similar backgrounds, no one can relate more to van Gisbergen’s long journey from Down Under to the checkered flag in the United States’ premier car racing series than McLaughlin, a three-time NTT IndyCar Series winner who took his first win at the Grand Prix of St Petersburg to open the 2022 season.
“I was going good for a little bit when Shane crossed the line,” McLaughlin told NBC Sports about watching the Chicago race at home in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It was just amazing. I knew how big that moment is, because I felt that at St. Pete and the victory at other places. It’s just a different feeling to win here than anywhere else. Because you know how hard you have to work for that. It was amazing. It was great.
“It was going from three years ago me and Shane were racing door to door in Australia. Nobody really knew who we were in America. Now we have thankfully won in America. It’s pretty crazy. I’m pushing him. I hope it comes to America, because I think it’s a lot bigger than it was over there.”
McLaughlin said the Supercars TV audience of more than half a million is considered “fantastic”. Nearly 5 million people watched on July 2 on NBC as van Gisbergen won the first street race in NASCAR Cup Series history.
“People don’t realize how big it is until they get here,” McLaughlin said. “To do what he did there is so remarkable. And I knew how much it means to his career. I felt very similar to how he made me feel at St. Pete. It changed the game. You only know how that feels. It was just so cool. Really from race to race, it’s very exciting.”
House Track Racing recently announced the start of the second Cup for van Gisbergen, who will be racing the Project 91 Chevrolet in the August 13 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (a day after McLaughlin and the IndyCar drivers race at the same track).
He will be joined by another Supercars driver as Brodie Kostecki makes his Cup debut for Richard Childress Racing as a teammate of Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon.
The Supercars migration has been very real for McLaughlin, who will compete against Kostecki in iRacing endurance races and hung out with him at the Indy 500 last year.
“It’s crazy, actually there’s going to be three of us on the doubleheader weekend,” McLaughlin said. “It will be interesting how they go. I think especially because it was like a perfect storm for Shane at Chicago to be a street track and it was raining. Now going to where a lot of NASCAR drivers have raced before and know their setups, it will be very interesting how those two adjust. But I think there will be no dramas.”
Unless maybe van Gisbergen remains undefeated in NASCAR’s premier series – which the two-time Cup champion thinks could happen.
Kyle Busch told reporters Friday at Pocono Raceway that van Gisbergen is “definitely the favorite” at the IMS road course event.
“I would say the gap will be closer to the rest of the field than he was (in Chicago),” Busch said. “He beat us all by 6 to 8 tenths of a second. I would say going into Indy we should all be within two or three tenths, but he’s still going to be the best guy.”
Another victory would certainly open more doors in NASCAR for van Gisbergen, whose IMS race was a recent addition (after Trackhouse co-owner Justin Marks said after the Chicago victory that no further events were scheduled).
“I think a lot of this was on the fly,” McLaughlin said of van Gisbergen’s NASCAR progress. “And I think Justin is a great person for doing this for the sport and motorsport in general, especially in America.
“I was texting Justin over the weekend in Chicago just saying, ‘Look at this, he’s a cyclist. He’s a wheelman.’ It is exciting for them. And it’s just one of those things where it’s going to progress over time with results and support. I think it’s going to get bigger and bigger.”
Although his Supercars contract runs into next year, van Gisbergen would be allowed to leave in 2024.
McLaughlin, who left Supercars after the 2020 season to race full-time in IndyCar, believes van Gisbergen is “very interested” in trying NASCAR
“I think he has nothing left to prove there, very similar to the position I had back in the day,” McLaughlin said. “It’s just a big world out there. I think Shane can be great with it.
“It’s a great race. Very, very good. Very analytical. Very smart. I think it wouldn’t take long. It would take some time to get used to the eggs and things, but I have no doubt that if there is anyone who could do it, he could easily transfer (to NASCAR).
“He’s won two Bathursts, three championships, 78 races. It is done. He has to go. Unless he wants to break all records there, which he will if he stays. I think he is in the same position as me. He could easily make a lot of money over there racing into his mid-40s, close to 50, but the next thing is competitive, do you want a challenge? That’s where I was.”
Would van Gibsbergen take a full-time Cup tour if it became available next year?
“I know Shane,” McLaughlin said. “I don’t know what his process would be, whether he would jump straight into the Cup, or whether he would do other things to be ready for 2025. I don’t know. I know Shane is very focused, and he doesn’t want to do this half-assed thing. So if he comes over, he’s going to want to do it right.”
McLaughlin is sure of one thing: You won’t see a third Supercars veteran in the Cup race at Indy – although he recently lobbied team owner Roger Penske about adding a fourth car to the race as a teammate of Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Austin Cindric (who hinted after the Chicago race that McLaughlin could duplicate van Gisbergen’s feat).
“It was funny at Mid-Ohio, I saw (Penske) on the grid, and I was like, ‘Yeah, come on somebody! Put me in the coach!” McLaughlin said with a laugh. “But I’m very happy where I am, and I don’t want to draw attention to what I’m doing here in IndyCar. And ultimately, if I do anything during the season, it’s probably going to be going away from (IndyCar).
“I think I’m very focused on what I’m doing here. If anything comes up, I wouldn’t say no, because it would be a great opportunity, but I’m not really stressed about it at the same time. Because I’m very happy trying to be successful in IndyCar.
“The whole reason I went to IndyCar was because it was a new challenge, very different from what I’ve done before, and I really enjoyed that. There’s no reason for me to go, ‘Oh my God, just because Shane’s gone, well, I need to jump into NASCAR.’ Yes, it would be cool to try it. Even if Shane didn’t come over, I’d love to try it. But so would Josef (Newgarden), and Will (Power).”
Just like his Penske teammates, McLaughlin wants to win an Indy 500 and IndyCar title before trying NASCAR.
“Indeed,” he said. “I’m a long way from being able to claim anything like that. And I’m very happy where I am.”