NASCAR Cup Series

Austin Cindric kicks off Cup rookie year with Daytona 500 victory

5 Mins read
Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Last Sunday is a day that Austin Cindric will never forget. The Cup Series rookie held off last-second charges from Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney to win the Daytona 500, making him the first points race winner of the Next Gen car era and the first Rookie of the Year contender to win the legendary race.

Cindric started fifth, two rows behind reigning champion and pole sitter Kyle Larson. Duel #1 winner Brad Keselowski, who drove the #2 Team Penske Ford before Cindric replaced him for 2022, battled with Kyle Busch for the lead throughout the early laps before the first caution came out on lap 42 for Kaz Grala‘s wheel coming off, prompting Chase Briscoe to try to avoid him but was spun by Cindric. Wheels dominated the raceday discourse after Justin Haley‘s wheel broke to create another caution on lap 53; the Next Gen car wheel features just one lug nut rather than the traditional five, is larger than its predecessors, and is composed of aluminum instead of steel.

The first stage ended under caution for a multi-car wreck on the backstretch on lap 64 that began after Keselowski delivered a bump to Harrison Burton while fighting for the lead, with the latter getting sideways and hitting the drafting duo of William Byron and Kyle Busch before flipping onto his roof. The upside-down Burton was then impacted by Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin, with Ross Chastain also getting collected. Martin Truex Jr. was the leader at the time of the yellow flag and therefore won the stage, and following were Keselowski, Todd Gilliland, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Joey Logano, Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Larson, and Chase Elliott.

Unlike the wheel drama and stage-ending wreck, the second segment ran completely green. Blaney took the lead on the restart before green-flag pit stops took place that shuffled the position between Truex and Wallace. Keselowski assumed the lead upon the pit cycle’s completion, but was caught by Truex who went on to win the stage. Logano, Wallace, Keselowski, Stenhouse, Cindric, Chris Buescher, Kevin Harvick, Larson, and Gilliland rounded out the top ten.

Keselowski regained the lead as the final stage commented. On lap 152, Reddick got loose in front of Jacques Villeneuve and overcorrected, causing him to spin up the tri-oval into Truex where he collected Busch and Logano. Wallace and Cindric led their respective lines when the race resumed, and this remained the case before Stenhouse entered the picture.

As the finish loomed with nine laps remaining, another crash occurred in the tri-oval when Larson clipped Harvick from behind after a stack-up with Buescher, resulting in Gilliland getting turned into Larson and setting off a chain reaction that resulted in damage for Jones, Gragson, and Elliott. A red flag was called for cleanup. Although Elliott would ultimately salvage a tenth-place finish, the crash with Larson meant all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers were involved in a caution, a far cry from their Daytona 500 qualifying successes.

Cindric assumed the lead for the lap 195 restart, though green-flag racing only lasted a circuit before a bump from Keselowski instead sent Stenhouse down into Wallace as they exited turn four. Stenhouse ricocheted up and collected Buescher, resulting in overtime.

Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

A pair of Penske drivers in Cindric and Blaney occupied the front row as overtime began. A strong restart propelled Cindric to the lead where he joined up with Blaney on the inside line while Keselowski worked with Chase Briscoe on the outside. This order remained the same for much of the final lap before best friends Blaney and Wallace attempted to make their moves by drafting together to remain on Cindric’s rear.

Briscoe and Kyle Busch attempted to pass Keselowski on the outside as they neared the finish, prompting Keselowski to come up and squeeze them into the wall. The same occurred for Blaney as he was sandwiched between Cindric and the wall, which Wallace tried to capitalise upon. Cindric dropped low and his left rear hit Wallace’s nose, causing him to briefly go onto the double-yellow line, but it was enough to keep Wallace at bay as Cindric crossed the line first.

Cindric is the first rookie to win the Daytona 500 since Trevor Bayne in 2011, but the first to do so as a Cup Series full-time driver (Bayne had declared for Xfinity Series points the year he won). Roger Penske, who was celebrating his eighty-fifth birthday, scored his third Daytona 500.

“I’ll be honest, I knew I had the car to do it, but there’s so many things that have to play out correctly in putting yourself in position,” commented Cindric. “And I think we learned throughout the race with myself, my spotter, and Jeremy as well, is doing the right strategy, the right calls and setting up the right lanes to be able to put ourselves in position.

“Sometimes that’s all you can hope for, and sometimes you have to force people to help you. I definitely didn’t expect any help throughout the day. I did get some from the Fords, and I think Ford’s done an incredible job with this new car, and I think it’s obviously shown the first couple races.

Just proud to be able to do it, proud to be able to hold off those runs at the end of the race. And it means the world to me to sit here and be able to say I’m a Daytona 500 winner.”

As the 2020 Xfinity Series champion who began his career there in 2018 with a reputation for multiple wrecks, Cindric remarked, “You probably couldn’t have picked me up from the care centre (in 2018) and said, you’re going to win the Daytona 500 one day. I probably would have said, ‘Bullshit.’

“But we’ve come a long way since then. It’s a very big credit to a lot of the people around me that have believed in me. I’ve driven a lot of different race cars in my career, a lot of different race cars at this track alone, and I’ve seen the highs and lows of it. I have a lot of perspective from friends, competitors, co-drivers, team-mates. This race means so much to so many people, and just very humbled to be able to get it done.”

Winning the Daytona 500. Not bad for a sports car and rallycross driver.

Race results

152Austin CindricTeam PenskeFord201Running
21623Bubba Wallace23XI RacingToyota201Running
3914Chase BriscoeStewart-Haas RacingFord201Running
4712Ryan BlaneyTeam PenskeFord201Running
53810Aric AlmirolaStewart-Haas RacingFord201Running
61018Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs RacingToyota201Running
7634Michael McDowellFront Row MotorsportsFord201Running
83415David RaganRick Ware RacingFord201Running
936Brad KeselowskiRFK RacingFord201Running
10119Chase ElliottHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet201Running
112642Ty DillonPetty GMS MotorsportsChevrolet201Running
123316Daniel Hemric*Kaulig RacingChevrolet201Running
131419Martin Truex Jr.Joe Gibbs RacingToyota201Running
14247Corey LaJoieSpire MotorsportsChevrolet201Running
152777Landon Cassill*Spire MotorsportsChevrolet201Running
16417Chris BuescherRFK RacingFord200Running
173251Cody WareRick Ware RacingFord200Running
182199Daniel SuárezTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet199Running
191745Kurt Busch23XI RacingToyota199Running
203141Cole CusterStewart-Haas RacingFord199Running
212022Joey LoganoTeam PenskeFord198Running
224027Jacques VilleneuveTeam HezebergFord198Running
232531Justin HaleyKaulig RacingChevrolet198Running
24248Alex BowmanHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet197Running
25363Austin DillonRichard Childress RacingChevrolet197Running
263550Kaz Grala*The Money Team RacingChevrolet196Running
273778B.J. McLeodLive Fast MotorsportsFord196Running
281847Ricky Stenhouse Jr.JTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet194Accident
291343Erik JonesPetty GMS MotorsportsChevrolet191Accident
30224Kevin HarvickStewart-Haas RacingFord191DVP
313962Noah Gragson*Beard MotorsportsChevrolet190Accident
3215Kyle LarsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet190Accident
332938Todd GillilandFront Row MotorsportsFord190Accident
341220Christopher BellJoe Gibbs RacingToyota152Accident
35158Tyler ReddickRichard Childress RacingChevrolet151Accident
362844Greg Biffle*NY Racing TeamChevrolet136Running
373011Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs RacingToyota63Accident
382324William ByronHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet62Accident
39821Harrison BurtonWood Brothers RacingFord62Accident
40191Ross ChastainTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet62Accident
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Cup points
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About author
Justin is a History major at San Jose State University and lifelong racing fan who has worked for The Checkered Flag since 2018. His coverage mainly focuses on NASCAR, the Stadium Super Trucks, and off-road series like Extreme E and SCORE International. He also dabbles in other disciplines such as IndyCar, rallycross, and sports cars.
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