Austin Cindric really earned the victory in Saturday’s Henry 180 NASCAR Xfinity Series race on the historic 4-mile Road America road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisc. – managing to hold off traffic on numerous restarts both early and late in an elongated afternoon of competition that included wet and dry conditions and 13 dramatic lead changes.
Cindric, 21, took his No. 22 Team Penske Ford to the lead for good on a restart with three laps remaining having to hold off hard-charging veteran road course ace A.J. Allmendinger; ultimately taking a 1.318-seconds victory – Cindric's fourth win in the last five races. He is the 11th different Road America winner in the last 11 races on the track.
“I had a lot of fun," Cindric acknowledged, of racing head-to-head with so many of his championship challengers on the day.
Chase Briscoe, a five-time winner in 2020 who is second to Cindric by 11 points in the driver standings, finished third on Saturday followed by Kaz Grala and IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Series star Andy Lally.
Noah Gragson, Ross Chastain, Preston Pardus, Ryan Sieg and Michael Annett rounded out the top 10. It was a career-best finish for the 23-year old Floridian Pardus, who also had a top-10 finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last month.
The race included “alternative pitting” strategies, ever-changing weather – rain and lightning - in addition to the typical challenges and tactics the series’ road course venues present.
An assortment of short caution periods interrupted the early portion of the race and eventually lightning forced a red flag that lasted 93 minutes, 16 seconds. But once the racing resumed, it was a dramatic reminder of the excitement and intrigue this brand of road course racing provides for racer and race fan.
From the very first lap, however, Cindric proved himself the class of the field – the driver to beat. He dove to the lead in Turn 1 after the green flag dropped and led the opening eight laps before cars were called to pit lane because of lightning. After more than an hour of stoppage, teams had to strategize whether to change their slick tires to rain tires in light of the changing weather conditions.
Justin Haley got around Cindric on the ensuing re-start and held onto the lead to win Stage 1 – his second stage victory of the season. He was involved in a collision late in the race and rallied to an 11th-place finish.
Allmendinger, who earned the Stage 2 win – along with his Kaulig Racing teammates Ross Chastain and Justin Haley had to overcome a strategy setback needing an additional pit stop to complete their fuel and tire needs. That left Grala and veteran Justin Allgaier out front to start the final stage.
The race affected the championship standings with six races remaining to set the 12-driver Playoff field. Brandon Brown holds the 12th position with Jeremy Clements 53 points behind and Myatt Snider 73 points behind.
The next race is also a road course event at the Daytona International Speedway – the first time the Xfinity Series has raced on the iconic venue’s road course.