On the 85th birthday of his car owner, Roger Penske, 23-year-old NASCAR Cup Series rookie Austin Cindric beat Bubba Wallace to the finish line by .036 seconds in overtime to win Sunday’s 64th running of the Daytona 500.
In a thrilling run to the finish in NASCAR’s new Next Gen race car at Daytona International Speedway, Cindric held off Wallace and Chase Briscoe (.091 seconds behind) to notch his first Cup victory in his eighth start in the series.
Cindric got the win in chamber-of-commerce weather with a sold-out crowd jamming the grandstands.
“Oh, my God—do you know what makes this even better? A packed house,” Cindric exulted after climbing from his car. “A packed house at the Daytona 500. “Oh, my God, I've got so many people to thank. First and foremost, Roger Penske. Happy Birthday!
“Everyone has worked so hard on this Next Gen car and through the whole process. I am so excited. This makes up for losing a championship in the last race I was in (2021 Xfinity Series season finale at Phoenix Raceway).
“I'm surrounded by great people, that's all there is to it. I know there's going to be highs and lows, being a rookie. I'm just grateful for the opportunity and excited to climb the mountain ahead of us on the No. 2 team. We're in the Playoffs—that's one box checked. My gosh, what an awesome group of fans; what an awesome race car. I'm just really thankful.”
A three-car wreck in Turn 4 on Lap 195 of a scheduled 200 wiped out the No. 47 Chevrolet of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who was leading for a restart on that same lap but was turned by a push from Brad Keselowski. The incident forced the race to overtime, requiring one extra lap for Cindric to claim victory.
An earlier six-car accident on Lap 190 had eliminated reigning series champion Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Todd Gilliland, Erik Jones and Noah Gragson, who was making his first start in NASCAR’s top division.
Cindric was the leader when the race restarted on Lap 200, and at the end of a wild two-lap scramble—after blocking a strong run from Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney—he arrived at the finish line roughly three feet ahead of Wallace, who was runner-up in the Great American Race for the second time.
“I thought our Toyota teammates did good work until they got picked off 1, 2, 3 throughout the race, so we just had to survive,” said Wallace, who finished .260 seconds behind race winner Austin Dillon in the 2018 Daytona 500.
“Great Speedweeks, though. We'll come home second. I'm going to be pissed off about this one for a while. I was happy on the first second place we got a couple years ago. This one sucks when you're that close, but all-in-all, happy for our team, happy for our partners, and on to California.”
Blaney came home fourth, followed by Aric Almirola, who will leave full-time racing at the end of the season. Kyle Busch, Michael McDowell, David Ragan, Keselowski and Chase Elliott completed the top 10.
Less than three laps from the end of the first stage, a push from Keselowski turned the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford of Harrison Burton sideways at the head of the outside lane. Burton’s Mustang nosed down the track into the No. 24 Chevrolet of William Byron, whose car slammed nose-first into the inside wall on the backstretch.
Kyle Busch spun sideways during the ensuing eight-car wreck. Denny Hamlin’s Toyota sustained terminal suspension damage, eliminating the field’s only multiple winner of the Daytona 500. The No. 1 Chevrolet of Ross Chastain was also knocked out of the race.
After the impact with Byron’s car and a jolt from the Toyota of Christopher Bell, Burton’s Ford turned upside down and landed on top of the Chevrolet of Alex Bowman, who had started the race on the outside of the front row. The impact righted Burton’s car, which a wrecker towed to the garage. Bowman lost four laps as his crew tried to return the No. 48 Camaro to raceable condition.
“I’m fine—I’ve hit a lot harder before, that’s for sure,” Burton said after a trip to the infield care center. “It’s just unfortunate. I hate it for the Wood Brothers group. They brought a really fast Ford Mustang down here and ended up on our lid, so that’s never good…
“I don’t know, I just got pushed and didn’t take it the right way—the car didn’t take it the right way or got pushed in the wrong spot. I’m not sure. I couldn’t really tell. I was looking out front to see what I had to do next to side draft the next guy that was on me, so just a bummer. I don’t really know what we could have done different, but we’ll move on and get better from it.”
From Hamlin’s standpoint, it was clear what happened.
“The 6 (Keselowski) was pushing the 21 (Burton) and you could see the 21 was kind of getting out of control there,” said Hamlin, who failed to finish a Daytona 500 for the first time in 17 starts and lost his chance for a fourth visit to Victory Lane. “So you know the mind-set was that you’ve got to back off, but I think the 6 was just insistent on pushing him at all costs and eventually turned the 21 around.
“Tough, you know, considering it was just for the stage. We were kind of boxed in there where I noticed that something was going to happen, but I was boxed in, I was behind a teammate (Kyle Busch), and I wanted to try to help. Again, just too aggressive pushing right there when they weren’t lined up and in control.”
Truex won the first stage under caution and then claimed victory in the second stage, which ran under green-flag conditions from the restart on Lap 72 to the conclusion on Lap 130. Truex came from third to first on the final lap to grab the stage win.
Keselowski, however, was first off pit road under caution for the stage break and led the field to green for a restart on Lap 138. Keselowski held the top spot until Tyler Reddick’s Chevrolet broke loose in Turn 4 on Lap 151 and started a wreck that damaged the contending cars of Truex, Joey Logano and Kurt Busch.
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to the track next week at Auto Club Speedway for the Wise Power 400 on February 27, 2022.