NASCAR Cup Series

Austin Cindric wins Fontana pole in incident-filled Saturday

3 Mins read
Credit: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

During NASCAR‘s testing of the Next Gen car ahead of its début season in 2022, among the sanctioning body’s talking points to develop hype was the intention of making a car that is more difficult to drive. Whether it be for that or Auto Club Speedway‘s aging surface or some other reason, drivers certainly seemed to have a hard time manoeuvring it during Saturday’s Cup Series practice and qualifying session.

Multiple drivers were involved in spins or accidents that stem from the Next Gen car having significantly less downforce than its predecessor, among other factors that increase its difficulty to control. Ross Chastain slammed into the wall during practice, while Kevin Harvick and Chris Buescher both spun in the session. Victims in qualifying included Aric Almirola, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, and Brad Keselowski, the latter’s tyres also going down after his spin and causing his car to be beached on the backstretch infield. By the end of the day, Austin Cindric‘s burgeoning Cup career continued to take off as the rookie backed up last week’s Daytona 500 victory by winning his first pole in just his ninth start.

“I think [the increased driving difficulty is] enjoyable to a certain extent,” commented Cindric. “The hard-to-drive part is different than in years past when you go to Darlington or Fontana or Atlanta in the past it was hard to drive but controllable. I think with this car you don’t have as much sidewall deflection and you don’t have the side force. You’re hard to drive is defined by different things. I am not going to sit here and tell you that I know what all those things are. You have to be somewhat conservative in some areas and somewhat aggressive in other areas. I was having to talk myself into my lap because I wasn’t aggressive enough in a lot of areas. I think the learning process is different for every driver and every team. You key off different things and there is a lot that is different right now.”

Cindric is the first Team Penske driver to win the Cup pole at Fontana since Kurt Busch in the 2007 fall race, but the first in the spring event since Ryan Newman in 2002.

“Yhe last time I approached a qualifying session having to talk myself into my own lap as much as I had to today was back when I raced U.S. F2000 in 2013 or 2014 and went to IRP the night before the 500,” he added. “I know that is probably gibberish to the entire NASCAR fan base but that is what today reminded me of. There is so much learning and so much going on and it is all happening really fast. As a driver, you can’t be distracted by the crashes or mistakes or the short amount of time. I had all the data I needed today to learn what I needed to do and go apply it. It is fun to be able to go do that.”

The chaos of the qualifying session led to a bizarre top five as Erik Jones qualified second, placing the legendary #43 on the front row for the first time since Almirola at Chicagoland Speedway in 2012. While the #43 started first at the 2013 fall race at Talladega, qualifing was rained out and it is therefore not considered an official pole. Cindric’s #2 and the #43 also marked the first front row with the two numbers since Keselowski and A.J. Allmendinger achieved the feat in the 2011 Coca-Cola 600. Jones also secured his first front-row start since qualifying runner-up at the 2019 AAA Texas 500, and the fifth such run of his Cup career.

Daniel Hemric qualified fifth for his fifth top-five start; the first four all came during his only full Cup season in 2019. His Kaulig Racing team had its fifth Cup top ten start and fourth with an actual qualifying session after Allmendinger qualified seventh, third, and eighth at COTA, Road America, and Indianapolis in 2021.

Busch did not set a qualifying time after failing inspection multiple times on Friday.

Qualifying results

PositionNumberDriverTeamManufacturerBest TimeBest Speed (mph)
12Austin CindricTeam PenskeFord41.226174.647
243Erik JonesPetty GMS MotorsportsChevrolet41.342174.157
318Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs RacingToyota41.437173.758
411Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs RacingToyota41.529173.373
516Daniel Hemric*Kaulig RacingChevrolet41.585173.139
612Ryan BlaneyTeam PenskeFord41.588173.127
722Joey LoganoTeam PenskeFord42.197170.628
89Chase ElliottHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet41.177174.855
96Brad KeselowskiRFK RacingFord41.403173.900
1024William ByronHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet41.478173.586
118Tyler ReddickRichard Childress RacingChevrolet41.516173.427
1219Martin Truex Jr.Joe Gibbs RacingToyota41.517173.423
135Kyle LarsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet41.594173.102
1448Alex BowmanHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet41.634172.936
1599Daniel SuárezTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet41.636172.927
163Austin DillonRichard Childress RacingChevrolet41.678172.753
1747Ricky Stenhouse Jr.JTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet41.688172.712
1842Ty DillonPetty GMS MotorsportsChevrolet41.777172.344
1920Christopher BellJoe Gibbs RacingToyota41.888171.887
2017Chris BuescherRFK RacingFord41.888171.887
2141Cole CusterStewart-Haas RacingFord41.940171.674
2221Harrison BurtonWood Brothers RacingFord41.989171.473
2334Michael McDowellFront Row MotorsportsFord42.056171.200
2414Chase BriscoeStewart-Haas RacingFord42.140170.859
257Corey LaJoieSpire MotorsportsChevrolet42.188170.665
2638Todd GillilandFront Row MotorsportsFord42.505169.392
2751Cody WareRick Ware RacingFord42.634168.879
2877Josh Bilicki*Spire MotorsportsChevrolet42.957167.609
2915Garrett SmithleyRick Ware RacingFord43.953163.811
3078B.J. McLeodLive Fast MotorsportsFord44.103163.254
3110Aric AlmirolaStewart-Haas RacingFordNo TimeN/A
324Kevin HarvickStewart-Haas RacingFordNo TimeN/A
331Ross ChastainTrackhouse Racing TeamChevroletNo TimeN/A
3423Bubba Wallace23XI RacingToyotaNo TimeN/A
3531Justin HaleyKaulig RacingChevroletNo TimeN/A
3645Kurt Busch23XI RacingToyotaNo TimeN/A
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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