Why Shane van Gisbergen Isn’t Eligible for the NASCAR Playoffs Despite Winning the Chicago Street Race
To say Shane van Gisbergen was a shocking winner of the inaugural edition of the Chicago Street Race would be an understatement, as he became the first driver to win his first-ever NASCAR Cup Series run since Indy car racer Johnny Rutherford won a Daytona 500 qualifier in 1963.
The New Zealander, who was also the first person in his country’s history to win a Cup Series race, was only the seventh driver in history to accomplish the feat and the first in the modern era.
Suiting up for Trackhouse Racing as part of the team’s unique Project 91 effort, van Gisbergen, an 80-time winner and three-time champion in Australia’s Supercars Championship circuit, overcame monumental odds and plenty of inclement weather to take the checkered flag in a wet Windy City. The inaugural Grant Park 220, of course, was shortened from 100 laps to 75 due to darkness and then extended a few more by overtime.
While Christopher Bell won the first two stages on the 2.2-mile street course, his chance to win ended rather abruptly. When it was announced on Lap 46 that the race would be shortened, Bell was in the lead. However, several cars had already pitted and were in a much better position to make it all the way to the finish. When Bell himself hit the pits, he restarted in 12th and ultimately finished 18th.
Van Gisbergen held the lead on Lap 25, becoming the first Project 91 driver to lead any lap in three starts, but fell back a touch as the race progressed. In the end, however, the 34-year-old chased down Chase Elliott and Justin Haley and scored a 1.259-second victory to become just the sixth driver born outside the U.S. to win a Cup Series race.
Typically, a win guarantees a driver a spot in the NASCAR Playoffs. But that’s not the case with Shane van Gisbergen.
Why Shane van Gisbergen isn’t eligible for the NASCAR Playoffs
With the win in Chicago, Shane van Gisbergen debuted in the NASCAR standings in the No. 36 slot, earning 55 points for the victory. But his standing doesn’t matter whatsoever.
Despite becoming the 12th different driver to win a Cup Series race this season, the New Zealand native won’t be taking one of the 16 spots in the NASCAR Playoffs. And why is that exactly? Well, the answer is quite simple.
Only full-time drivers are eligible. And van Gisbergen is just that. Now, that’s not to say he won’t make another Cup Series start this year, as he could very well suit up for Trackhouse again on the road courses at Indianapolis or Watkins Glen. But as far as being an official postseason contender, that’s just not an option.
So bubble drivers such as Bubba Wallace, Ty Gibbs, Daniel Suarez, Michael McDowell, AJ Allmendinger, and Alex Bowman didn’t really get screwed by this win, although Bowman didn’t do himself any favors by finishing last to drop to 20th in the standings.
But van Gisbergen’s situation certainly isn’t unprecedented. In fact, just two years ago, Allmendinger won the third-to-last race of the 2021 regular season, taking the checkered flag at Indy. But as he was running full-time in the Xfinity Series that year for Kaulig Racing (Indy was just his fourth Cup Series start of the season), he was ineligible for the Cup Series postseason.
Joey Logano missed the postseason in 2017 despite winning a regular-season race in Richmond, but that was for different reasons. But I digress.
Perhaps we’ll see Shane van Gisbergen in the NASCAR Playoffs down the line if he decides to make the jump once his Supercars commitment is complete at the conclusion of the 2024 season. One has to assume Justin Marks already has those wheels in motion.