Shane van Gisbergen has the opportunity to buck the trend and be one of the most successful foreign-born NASCAR drivers.

van Gisbergen set the bar of expectations high when he came out and won in his NASCAR Cup Series debut on the streets of Chicago last summer. Quickly bitten by the stock car bug, van Gisbergen, a three-time Australian Supercars champion, entered three additional NASCAR races in 2023 and has since relocated from Australia to transition full-time into the sport. Kaulig Racing will field him in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and there will also be at least six Cup Series starts on his schedule.

“I think he’s he has a huge level of talent and a huge level of preparation,” Brandon Thomas, NASCAR VP of vehicle design, told RACER. “I think there’s a big difference in a 38-race schedule. Certainly, the ovals are going to be radically different. he certainly gives the impression, from the outside looking in, that he’s serious.

“In the past see some of the drivers who have come in, they were definitely as serious, but if they weren’t in a good situation, and it’s easy to get demoralized and not produce the results, and the wheels kind of come off quickly. I think if he’s putting 100% effort into it, he’ll plot his own path and be fine.”

Mexico native Daniel Suarez is currently the only foreign-born full-time driver in the series and has one career victory. However, he is a former Xfinity Series champion.

Suarez isn’t the first and van Gisbergen, who has aspirations of being a Cup Series driver, won’t be the last to come along. There have been other international drivers who came to NASCAR and experienced mixed results, and three who have stood out prior to van Gisbergen.

A driver of similar background to van Gisbergen, Marcos Ambrose, won two races in his Cup Series career, both on the Watkins Glen road course. In six seasons, the two-time champion in what was then the V8 Supercars Series never finished higher than 18th in the Cup standings. Of his five Xfinity Series wins, four came at Watkins Glen and the other in Montreal.

Dario Franchitti is an open-wheel legend but his NASCAR career is a sidenote. Franchitti wanted a new challenge when he embarked upon his switch, but quickly questioned what he was doing in stock cars with Chip Ganassi Racing. In 2007, he made four Xfinity Series before moving into the Cup Series in 2008. His tenure lasted 10 races. Franchitti suffered a broken ankle in the spring (during a Xfinity Series race) and failed to qualify for a handful of races upon his return.

Ganassi also lacked funding to properly field the car, ending Franchitti’s season early. Of his 29 national series starts, Franchitti earned two top-10 finishes.

Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya gave NASCAR racing a respectable go. Montoya won two Cup Series races in 255 starts, at Sonoma (2007) and Watkins Glen (2010). Perhaps most impressively, Montoya finished eighth in the championship standings in 2009 with 18 top-10 finishes. Of his seven full seasons at NASCAR’s top level, just twice (2009 and ’10) did he earn a double-digit number of top-10 finishes. Montoya also has a Xfinity Series victory (he made 23 starts) on his resume from 2007 in Mexico City.

van Gisbergen is contracted through Trackhouse Racing, who has entered into an alliance with Kaulig Racing. Both are winning organizations, putting van Gisbergen in capable equipment.

The New Zealander is all-in on his new adventure. The road and street courses should require little adjustment, but the ovals will be where van Gisbergen has the most to learn. Mike Hillman Jr. served as van Gisbergen’s crew chief in his lone Craftsman Truck Series race on an oval, at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, and found their performance slightly exceeded expectations.

“The biggest goal was to get him to run every lap, and IRP is probably one of the hardest short tracks that we go to with multiple lines, a lot of tire fall off, a lot of different things going on,” Hillman said of their 19th place finish. “The Truck Series, they like to get a little rowdy and tear some stuff up, but he kept all the fenders on it and ran every lap, and to finish in the top 20, I thought that was a good day.”

van Gisbergen has impressed many he’s already worked with, and not just because of his talent and ability behind the wheel. There has been no stone left unturned his preparation, and he’s become a student of the sport and its craft.

“He asked a lot of questions; he was a big sponge,” Hillman said.

And during races, van Gisbergen has quickly picked up on what the vehicle is doing and what feedback he needs to give.

“His feedback was dead on,” Hillman said. “We went identical to Carson and the things he said in practice and the things he said in the race, they corresponded to what the No. 42’s comments were. That went really well.”

NASCAR couldn’t be happier with the van Gisbergen experiment. After his performance in Chicago, the sport found itself in headlines home and abroad, and the sport only benefits from having someone of van Gisbergen’s talent in the field.

“You certainly want quality competitors,” Thomas said.

NASCAR also inadvertently and unexpectedly made the sport more appealing to van Gisbergen with its car. Although van Gisbergen is going to be a Xfinity Series competitor first, the goal is to be in the premier series, and that is where the Next Gen car is: a car that has many characteristics in common with what van Gisbergen has driven up to this point in his career.

Thomas admitted NASCAR takes a lot of pride in the parity the car has produced, with more organizations performing well or winning races. But he also believes elite drivers, such as van Gisbergen, can drive anything, so he wouldn’t directly point to the car as being the difference for van Gisbergen versus those who have come before him.

“When you take an elite driver out of an F1 car, an Australian Supercar, an IndyCar, you name it, when you grab one of those drivers and bring them here and they embrace the challenge around a good team, we like to see them do reasonably well,” Thomas said. “I don’t think that it’s necessarily the fact that the car makes it particularly easy or makes it particularly more welcoming. I think some of the things are, the car’s more similar from a behavior standpoint, tuning, and tire feel to a lot of other cars these days as opposed to being so unique.

“You used to see Andy Lally, who obviously does a lot of IMSA and was (2011 NASCAR) rookie of the year, and he used to describe a stock car as a dump truck with a space shuttle engine in it. It was so unique with a solid rear axle and just really antiquated suspension pieces and geometry, even though we were all doing state of the art versions. It was not something that you felt driving anything else.”

However the variables have come together for his transition, and van Gisbergen has the chance to capitalize.

“I think the way that everything is laid out now, it could almost be easier,” Hillman said. “There are more road courses. I think the car plays into more of what these guys race, and the way things go now, in the Cup Series especially, there is a lot of telemetry and things you can use to speed up the learning curve. I think him racing the car he does and the conversations he and I have had about how they end up with low grip and how you have to manage your tires and race, those things will benefit him. Unlike some of the guys who have come from open-wheel cars, where it’s a lot drafting, not close racing, not a lot of contact.

“It’ll be really interesting to see where he ends up.”