WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Austin Cindric and AJ Allmendinger put on a show for the ages at Watkins Glen International on Saturday afternoon.
Roughing each other up in the closing laps, Cindric was able to get the best of Allmendinger, taking the lead for the final time as they took the white flag, taking home the checkers.
Cindric’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford had the freshest tires at the end of the race, and once he moved into the lead and got enough of a gap, there was nothing Allmendinger could do.
“I didn’t know if he was gonna shove me back again into Turn 1,” Cindric said. “So, I adjusted my brake bias getting ready for it and trying to be as prepared as possible, because I knew if we were able to get to the bus stop, which was my car’s strength all day and my strength all weekend, if I was able to get to there, we were gonna be home sailing.”
Cindric claimed his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory in his 54th career start, and is now clinched into the 2019 NXS Playoffs.
Following the completion of post-race inspection, Allmendinger’s No. 10 Kaulig Racing Camaro was disqualified for not meeting minimum heights, and was credited with a 37th-place finish with no stage points earned.
Coming into the event, all eyes were on Kyle Busch, who was the fastest car the entire weekend.
Busch started on the pole, and after a quick challenge from Cindric on the initial start, Busch was able to reclaim the lead entering the inner loop.
The caution flag flew for the first time on lap 12, when Joey Gase stopped at the exit of Turn 1.
On the following restart, another caution flew when Justin Allgaier and Ross Chastain made contact in the inner loop, sending Allgaier into the tire barrier.
Allgaier and his No. 7 Brandt Camaro was able to return to the track after repairs, and started cutting his way back through the field.
On the final lap of Stage 1, Allgaier caught back up to Chastain exiting the inner loop. As the two made their way into the outer loop, Allgaier laid his front bumper onto Chastain’s rear, and the contact sent the No. 4 JD Motorsports Camaro into the outside tire barrier, ending his race.
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Busch went on to claim the stage victory.
In Stage 2, Ryan Blaney and Christopher Bell led the field back to the green, and Blaney took advantage into Turn 1.
Busch had pitted during the stage break, and utilizing his fresher tires, worked his way back up to second place with only a handful of laps remaining in the second stage.
With five laps to go until the end of Stage 2, Busch made the move on Blaney heading into the inner loop.
Busch caught the curb entering at a poor angle, and on landing, a part in the left front of the car broke, sending the car off track entering the outer loop.
Busch would subsequently retire, unable to fix the damage.
As they came down to the end of the stage, Allmendinger was able to move around Blaney, and went on to take the green-checkered flag. However, Blaney was credited post race with the stage victory after Allmendinger’s disqualification.
Differing strategies began to play out in the final stage. Cindric opted to pit early, while Allgaier, who worked his way back into contention, stayed out, led a bunch of laps, and pitted late.
A caution bunched up the field with almost ten laps to go, when debris collected in the racing groove in the inner loop.
Cindric opted to pit, while Allmendinger, Bell, and Allgaier stayed out.
A quick caution involving Justin Haley, Josh Bilicki, and others reset the order, and Cindric moved up from ninth to sixth for the next restart.
Allmendinger led the field to the final restart, and after a wild save by Bell heading up the esses, Cindric muscled around the mayhem into second place.
With three laps to go, Cindric was right on Allmendinger’s back bumper.
Cindric gave Allmendinger a shove in the outer loop, and took command with one-and-a-half laps to go. Allmendinger didn’t concede, and returned the bumper entering Turn 6.
Off of Turn 7 and heading to the white flag, Allmendinger slipped up, and Cindric took advantage. Cindric took the low lane entering Turn 1, and started to slip away.
Through the final lap, Allmendinger could never get back to Cindric’s bumper for one last shot, and Cindric took home the trophy for the first time.
Cindric becomes the sixth driver locked into the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, joining Michael Annett, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer, and Chase Briscoe.
Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson, Justin Haley, John Hunter Nemechek, Ryan Sieg, and Brandon Jones round out the remainder of the 12-car playoff grid, with six races remaining in the regular season.
Gray Gaulding is the first driver outside the playoffs, 102 points behind Jones for 12th.
Next week, the series heads to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the B&L Transport 170 at Mid-Ohio.
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