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Shane van Gisbergen wins The Loop Xfinity Series Race as NASCAR returns to Chicago

Illinois driver Justin Allgaier showed up for redemption on Saturday, July 6, coming in 9th place.
NASCAR+drivers+drive+slowly+down+S.+DuSable+Lake+Shore+Drive+as+they+follow+a+safety+car+during+the+Xfinity+Series+race+at+the+NASCAR+Chicago+Street+Race+on+Saturday%2C+July+6%2C+2024.+A+sunny+day+with+blue+skies+made+for+a+pleasant+suprise+in+comparison+to+the+previous+rain-delayed+year.+
Addison Annis
NASCAR drivers drive slowly down S. DuSable Lake Shore Drive as they follow a safety car during the Xfinity Series race at the NASCAR Chicago Street Race on Saturday, July 6, 2024. A sunny day with blue skies made for a pleasant suprise in comparison to the previous rain-delayed year.

Under clear skies, the NASCAR Chicago Street Race returned for a second year this weekend, with more viewing spots for fans and modifications to street closures. 

 

Shane van Gisbergen, No. 97, won the The Loop 110 Xfinity Series Race, a 50-lap event that was shortened last year because of lightning. Illinois driver Justin Allgaier, No. 7, came in 9th place.

 

Van Gisbergen, a Supercars champion, won his maiden NASCAR race last year in Chicago, taking the trophy in the Grant Park 220. The race was cut short after 75 of 100 laps because of weather. Van Gisbergen was the first driver to win a race in his debut NASCAR Cup Series start since Johnny Rutherford more than 60 years ago. 

 

After his surprise win last year, Van Gisbergen signed a contract with Kaulig Racing for the full Xfinity season. 

 

In the Xfinity race on Saturday, Van Gisbergen, driving a Kaulig Racing Chevrolet, went from third to first with two laps remaining to win. He will return to the Grant Park 220 race on Sunday, July 7, to defend his title from last year. 

 

“It feels like we’re welcomed here and everyone’s in support of the street race. It feels like a really cool atmosphere when we walk from the hotel to the track,” Van Gisberson said. 

 

Third-place driver Kyle Larson, No. 5, racing for Hendrick Motorsports, spoke on his “fun” battle with Van Gisberson throughout the race. 

 

“He’s just really good. And he hasn’t ever touched anybody to get by them and that’s rare to see,” Larson said. “It’s fun racing with a guy like that and seeing it out of your windshield too as he’s picked his way around you.”

 

For two days, NASCAR drivers traverse the 2.2-mile and 12-turn course winding through Grant Park in the South Loop near Columbia’s campus. 

 

On Saturday, July 6, gates opened at 8:45 a.m. Practice and qualifying rounds started at 9 a.m., and The Loop 110 Xfinity Series Race started at 2:30 p.m. Of the 43 drivers who competed in the qualifying rounds, 38 earned a spot for the main race.

 

During the practice laps, preceding the qualifying race, Allgaier, racing for JR Motorsports in a Chevy Camaro, had a shaky start to the day with a harsh collision with driver No. 45 Alon Day on Turn 4. Allgaier made contact with the track wall and flames lit up his back tire when Day made a tight turn, crashing into the back of Allgaier’s car. Both drivers were taken to the onsite care center but walked away with no major injuries. 

 

The Xfinity race is one of NASCAR’s three national series. The other two are the Craftsman Truck Series and the Cup Series. The Xfinity race involves different drivers than the Cup Series, which takes place the following day, with a few exceptions of drivers competing in multiple races. Cole Custer in the No. 00 Ford won last year’s Xfinity Series race.

 

Julie Giese, the president of the Chicago Street Race, said organizers made schedule changes after feedback from Chicago residents. The set-up for the track also was cut by six days, and the main streets, DuSable Lakeshore Dr. and Michigan Ave., were closed at 12:01 a.m. on Friday to avoid additional traffic jams. 

 

Phil Perry, a longtime NASCAR fan from Chicago, grew up watching races with his parents. He did not attend the race in the city last year but said he makes it a priority to attend a couple of races each year. He is a big fan of No. 34 Michael McDowell in the NASCAR Cup series. 

 

“They’re kind of a smaller team, so it’s fun to root for the underdogs,” Perry said while in the line for the box office at the NASCAR Village at Butler Field. 

 

Perry said Allgaier, the Illinois driver, was a “likable guy,” and someone he can associate with.

 

Currently in his ninth season with JR Motorsports racing No. 7 and qualifying for his seventh playoff season, Allgaier finished the inaugural 2023 NXS Chicago street race in third place. After an eventful eighth season last year with four wins, he was runner-up in the NSX Championship 4 race at the Phoenix Raceway. 

 

 

Allgaier expressed his excitement for this home race in a media press conference on Friday, July 5 at the Art Institute of Chicago. 

 

“I’ve come to Chicago my whole life. It was the trip to come up and see the big city,” Allgaier said. “When you see people literally stand on statues to get a view of the racetrack, that from a driver’s standpoint is a surreal thought process.” 

 

Erin Hitchins, a Chicago resident and life-long NASCAR fan, attended her first in-person race in eight years with her husband to keep her enthusiasm alive. Though she didn’t follow any specific racers, she found Allgaiers’ representation of Illinois to expand NASCAR’s engagement for the better.

 

“I feel like NASCAR is something known to be in the South,” said Hitchins, making her way to the box office line with her husband. “I think by bringing it here, and making it accessible, even just to learn about it with the festival, I think it’s great because it gives people an easy way to learn a little bit about it and get a little more familiar with it, so I think it’s a great idea. This is a great experience and I hope that people learn to like NASCAR.”

 

Allgaier noticed the diverse range of fans in the Chicago crowd in last year’s street race and said he looked forward to seeing more of that this year. “It’s kind of appeasing to different crowds and I think that that’s what this event is supposed to be about. It’s really neat to see the fanfare around it,” he said.

 

Izzy Lugo, from Milwaukee came with his brother to their first NASCAR race, to see the buzz they’ve heard from others in person for themselves. Not only the novelty of the race taking place in the streets of the city, but the newly diverse crowd and racers attracts Lugo to celebrate NASCAR, as he follows racers No. 99 Daniel Suarez, and No. 23 Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in the Cup Series this year.

 

“Being Puerto Rican, I never thought this sport was for me,” Lugo said. “But seeing more representation in drivers has kind of shown that I wanted to come and support those drivers and people that look like me.”

 

Copy edited by Doreen Abril Albuerne-Rodriguez and Trinity Balboa

 

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About the Contributors
Sofía Oyarzún
Sofía Oyarzún, Bilingual Reporter
soyarzun@columbichronicle.com   Sofia Oyarzún is a sophomore photojournalism and journalism double major. Oyarzún joined the Chronicle in January 2024.   Hometown: Glenview, Illinois
Kaelah Serrano
Kaelah Serrano, Photojournalist
kserrano@columbiachronicle.com   Kaelah Serrano is a junior photojournalism major. She has covered music festivals, campus art exhibitions and metro parades and protests. Serrano joined the Chronicle in January 2023.   Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Addison Annis
Addison Annis, Director of Photography
aannis@columbiachronicle.com   Addison Annis is a junior photojournalism major, minoring in video production. She has covered politics, cultural events and Chicago protests. Annis joined the Chronicle in August 2022.   Hometown: Plymouth, Minn.