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July 6, 2024

Kyle Larson, Ty Gibbs learn plenty as Xfinity runners-up to Shane van Gisbergen

CHICAGO — Shane van Gisbergen and Kyle Larson took turns crossing each other over for the race lead. Ty Gibbs tried to chase SVG for the win.

Ultimately, it was van Gisbergen who enjoyed Chicago’s spoils all over again, this time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series on Saturday on the Chicago Street Course. But it’s safe to say the thrill of the show was even fun for the drivers performing.

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“I was having a blast,” said Larson, who finished third in his first Xfinity start on the city roads.

RELATED: Race results | At-track photos: Chicago

Van Gisbergen agreed, jumping to the point as soon as he sat down for his press conference inside The Art Institute of Chicago.

“That was a pretty awesome race,” van Gisbergen said, now boasting a 2-for-2 record on the 2.2-mile street course.

The first stage produced the most dazzling of SVG’s and Larson’s head-to-head battles. They swept the front row in qualifying but wasted zero time in slicing and dicing through DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Roosevelt Road and Columbus Drive.

For all of Larson’s success — which includes earning the Busch Light Pole Award for Sunday’s Grant Park 165, the feature race of Chicago Street Race Weekend — he knew there would be plenty of takeaways from any straight-up contests between himself and van Gisbergen’s No. 97 Chevrolet.

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

“My car seemed to be a little bit better than his for maybe a lap or two, which helped me get by him and then able to protect and stuff. But he was so much better than me. He was just being patient and playing with me, I think. But it was it was good fun and probably made for great TV. And yeah, the whole race was really exciting, I thought.”

There was perhaps a little less patience than Larson gave SVG credit for, the New Zealander said, attributing a slower car under re-fires that forced him to play a little catch-up.

“The first stage race with Kyle there, my car was really weak,” van Gisbergen said. “I couldn’t get going at the start or the restarts, and then take two or three laps, and he’d always pass me. Then, when my car would come on with, I’d be attacking him and yeah, just awesome. Awesome, fun racing with him. His car was a little better over the bumps and under braking, and he was driving very well as well. But yeah, gave him a thumbs up, he was waving back, and yeah, had a blast.”

Shane van Gisbergen and Kyle Larson at Chicago.
Brittney Wilbur | NASCAR Digital Media

But in the end, pit strategy placed multiple cars between the two. And while Larson felt he got through traffic quicker than SVG, van Gisbergen had the ever-important track position that gave him a better shot to chase victory.

On a restart with three laps remaining, van Gisbergen was able to clear Gibbs for second and hunt then-leader Jesse Love for the win. SVG charged to Love’s right on entry to the 90-degree, left-handed Turn 6 from Columbus onto Balbo Drive, then continued to drive shallower and shallower to the right-handed Turn 7 onto Michigan Avenue — forcing Love to either leave a lane or get crashed.

Love left the lane, SVG drove through and Gibbs followed through into second place.

Gibbs charged hard to whittle the gap to van Gisbergen over the final two laps but ultimately had to settle as the runner-up.

RELATED: Gibbs ‘just needed to be better’ in runner-up day

“He just seemed like he set (Love) up really well getting into (Turn) 6 and had him pointed a whole different direction,” Gibbs said of SVG’s race-winning move. “And then he could cross him back over quickly and jump inside and get his nose far out enough to where Love is gonna have to lift because, at that point, it doesn’t make sense for him to run in the corner next to him. He just did a really good job of setting them up.”

Perhaps the best part of Saturday’s showdown between three top road-racing talents is that a sequel is immediately on deck, with all three set to compete in the Cup race. Gibbs qualified second — 0.01 seconds shy of Larson’s pole lap time — with SVG fifth. Van Gisbergen offered his praise of Gibbs as well, with the two of them having prior Xfinity battles at Circuit of The Americas and Sonoma Raceway as well.

“He races really good,” van Gisbergen said. “You can tell when someone — when you’re racing around them — how aware they are, how sharp. And yeah, he puts the car in good spots and he’s always fast as well. So yeah, I’m sure him and Kyle, they’ll probably be the quickest guys tomorrow. And I think at one stage in practice, overall, I think the top five or four guys were all people doing (the) Xfinity Series (race), so it’s been really handy doing both for everyone.”