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What shocked NASCAR star most about 'amazing' van Gisbergen

05 Jul
'Crown him, greatest f**king athlete in the history of sports'
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Denny Hamlin says Shane van Gisbergen may be the 'greatest f***king athlete’ after his debut NASCAR win, with the Daytona winner impressed by the Kiwi's quick adjustment to a left-hand drive car.

Van Gisbergen swapped his Triple Eight Supercar Camaro for a Trackhouse-run Project91 NASCAR Camaro last weekend for the inaugural Chicago street race.

On debut — on a new street circuit, no less — van Gisbergen powered to victory, despite behind as low as 18th with roughly 20 laps remaining.

The result shocked the motorsport world, van Gisbergen becoming the first driver in 60 years to win on his Cup Series debut.

The win earned van Gisbergen global praise, from Mario Andretti to Scott McLaughlin, with NASCAR drivers also in awe.

Notably, 2020 Cup Series champion Chase Elliott quipped that van Gisbergen will return to Australia and tell everyone how bad NASCAR drivers were.

Hamlin stated van Gisbergen’s extensive road course — and street circuit — experience had him in good stead, despite the lack of NASCAR laps.

However, Hamlin — recently named one of NASCAR's 75 Greatest Drivers — said van Gisbergen’s achievement was “unbelievable”.

"I was walking out with him after qualifying and he was saying, ‘Congrats, nice lap' and what not,” Hamlin — who started on pole for the race — said on his Actions Detrimental podcast.

"And I said to him, ‘Big fan'. I've never talked to him before — I've probably seen, I don't know, 50 total laps of Supercars racing. But most of the highlights are around this guy and how good he is.

"An interesting question that got posed to me… does it taint it for you guys, that a guy came in here one time and won? If it was road course or an oval, then I would be a little embarrassed.

"I'm trying to create an analogy — because what people could think is that we just had somebody come play in the NBA and beat LeBron James and whatever. And what I say is, no, their ball is square. It's a square hoop. Everything is different.

"We came to his world more than he came to our world. We were racing in his environment more than he was racing in our environment. Street racing is a lot of what they do, racing around these barriers.

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"If it was on an oval, this would have been the single most incredible accomplishment — I mean, it was. Sixty years since someone won in their first start. What he did was unbelievable, it really was. I was in awe of this guy's talent.

"And if you looked at where he was fast on the race track, it was where all of the walls were. The tighter the track was, the faster he was versus the field.

"But again, it wasn't road courses we had all run before. We had never run it before, and he had never run it before.”

Hamlin was particularly impressed how van Gisbergen pulled off the feat in a left-hand drive car, given his Supercar is right-hand drive.

"I'm thinking about this on the fly, and the counter point on the other side of my shoulder is — they said he was shifting with the opposite hand," Hamlin added.

"That, to me, blows my mind. I guess I could do it, but I probably wouldn't be very efficient shifting with the other hand.

"We knew he was really good, but this is blowing my mind as we talk about it. You know what? Crown him, greatest f**king athlete in the history of sports.

"I mean, he went from one side of the car to the other. I did it when I went to Japan for Toyota and I ran out in a GT3 car. It took me forever to get comfortable driving from the other side of the car.

"Holy cow. Everywhere you turn it's pretty amazing what he did.”

Van Gisbergen will make his 500th Supercars race start at this weekend’s sixth round of the season in North Queensland.

The 2023 Repco Supercars Championship will resume at the NTI Townsville 500 on July 7-9. Tickets are on sale now.

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