Austin Cindric entered the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series season with solid momentum to build upon, having scored his first wins in NASCAR and a sixth-place points finish the previous year. Now, his third year in the series ends with him a champion.
Cindric, the regular season champion with five wins entering the finale, started third in Saturday’s Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 at Phoenix Raceway behind Justin Allgaier and Chase Briscoe, and alongside Justin Haley. Briscoe, a fellow Ford driver, had been Cindric’s main championship rival throughout the season, while Allgaier and Haley represented the Chevrolets.
The first stage was the Allgaier and Briscoe Show as the two traded the lead. Three cautions occurred: Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s wreck on the backstretch on lap three, the competition yellow on lap 22, and a multi-car accident involving C.J. McLaughlin, Donald Theetge, J.J. Yeley, and Matt Mills on lap 29. By the end, Briscoe led Cindric, Allgaier, Noah Gragson, Ross Chastain, Michael Annett, Haley, Harrison Burton, Riley Herbst, and Brandon Jones.
Allgaier led the field off pit road and to the start of Stage #2. Seeking his first title in his fourth Championship Round appearance, Allgaier led Cindric through a lap 75 caution for Tommy Joe Martins‘ expired engine and the restart on lap 81. However, he lost the top spot to Cindric on lap 83, and said new leader would take the stage victory. Briscoe took third and Haley was once again the worst-finishing playoff driver in sixth. Between Briscoe and Haley were Jones, Gragson, and Annett. Burton, Jeremy Clements, and Myatt Snider rounded out the top ten.
The final stage for the season opened with Allgaier once again pacing the grid to green. Cindric took the lead on lap 130 and led until green-flag stops began, with Allgaier being the first of the final four to hit pit road. Chastain inherited the lead during the cycle, and he and Allgaier were able to remain on the lead lap when Joe Graf Jr. wrecked with 30 laps to go; Briscoe later received the free pass while Haley took the wave-around. Cindric stayed out during the caution and continued to lead as the race resumed.
In a turn of events that drew comparisons to the previous night’s NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series championship race, Cindric was primed to storm off to the win until a caution came out with three to go to force overtime. Unlike the Truck race in which the victim was a backmarker, it was Briscoe as he spun.
After stops, Allgaier and Chastain comprised the front row. Much like the Truck event, a mad scramble for position led to Gragson taking the white flag, but a final pass by Cindric elevated him to first as he claimed his sixth win of 2020 and the championship. Allgaier finished fifth to record a runner-up points finish, followed by Haley (eighth) and Briscoe (ninth).
Cindric’s title marks the first Xfinity driver’s championship for Team Penske since Brad Keselowski in 2010; incidentally, Keselowski will race for the Cup Series title on Sunday. A noted road course expert who dabbled in a variety of motorsports prior to NASCAR, Cindric also joins Truck champion Sheldon Creed in holding a unique honour: both are X Games medalists and NASCAR champions. Interestingly, both lower-series champions’ vehicle numbers exclusively feature the number 2, with Creed in the #2 and Cindric in the #22.
The newly-crowned champion will defend his title in 2021 as he returns to the series in addition to a part-time Cup schedule. He tweeted after the race, “2020 Champs!!!! Thanks for the love cheering on the 22. LFGGGGGG”.