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Austin Cindric wins the 64th Annual Daytona 500

Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE

A rookie only by definition, Austin Cindric has accomplished a lot in his young motorsports career. After a wild finish on Sunday night at Daytona Int’l Speedway, he can add Daytona 500 champion to his resumé after holding off Bubba Wallace in the closing moments of the 64th running of The Great American Race.

At the white flag, Cindric led with help from his Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney. On the high side, Brad Keselowski was pushing with help from Chase Briscoe. Behind Blaney was Wallace, who managed to push the low line ahead of the No. 6.

Photo by Dominic Aragon/TRE

Off of Turn 4, Keselowski blocked Chase Briscoe into the wall and slowed their momentum permanently. Blaney took advantage and used the run to go high, but Cindric moved up and then the 12 was in the wall. To the line, Wallace went low, Cindric came down and made contact again, slowing the No. 23 enough to stay ahead and take the victory.

“Appreciate Ryan being a great teammate,” Cindric said post-race. “Obviously, he wants to win this one, but I’m so pumped for Discount Tire, Menards, Ford. Everybody works so hard with this Next Gen car, through this whole process, and damn, I am so excited. This makes up for losing a championship last race I did.”

On the other side of the side-by-side finish, Wallace came up short with his second-career runner-up finish in the season opening race. While his first second place was joyous, Wallace was not as happy this time around.

“I’m going to be pissed off about this one for a while,” Wallace said. “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.”

Cindric becomes the 41st different winner of the Daytona 500 and the ninth driver to make the 500 his first career victory. Barring anything crazy, Cindric should be the first driver locked into the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

STAGE 1

Photo by Dominic Aragon/TRE

Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman led the field to the green, but they were immediately outmatched with the number of Ford Performance drivers in their new camera in place of a rearview mirror. Keselowski led a group of Mustangs to the top and to the lead for the first few laps.

Kyle Busch and his band of Toyota Racing teammates were able to get organized and take the lead briefly, but the Fords wound up prevailing after too long. As it’s been for a few years, the manufacturer alliances were in full effect early on in the event.

The first pit stops took place around lap 40, but the green flag racing was shortly stopped after some pit road issues. On lap 42, the No. 50 of Kaz Grala, driving for The Money Team, brought out the first caution when he lost his right rear tire exiting the pits. Briscoe spun after contact with Cindric, but for the most part, everyone survived without too much damage.

Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE

Not a few laps after the restart, another car had another wheel issue, this time the No. 31 of Justin Haley in the new Kaulig Racing Cup entry. Lug-gate would thankfully disappear for the remainder of the event.

Coming to close the stage, the first big one would occur with Harrison Burton, the rookie driver for the Wood Brothers, catching air on the backstretch. Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch and Alex Bowman were some of the heavy hitters collected. Martin Truex Jr went on to win the stage.

STAGE 2

The second stage was more muted in comparison to the first. After watching one of their competitors flip at the end of the previous stage, the field singled out for a good portion of Stage 2.

Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE

Up front, it was Blaney, a superspeedway ace in his own right having conquered both Daytona and Talladega on multiple occasions in his career. Blaney led the field, mostly single file, through the pit stops about 40 laps into the stage once again. Once it sorted itself, Keselowski was back up front.

It didn’t start getting crazy until the closing laps of the stage. Larson found his way back to the front, but with no friends, he was shuffled back out as Keselowski went back to the front. Joey Logano was right behind, and the two looked to be working together to perfection, well, until they didn’t.

As they caught the lapped car of Briscoe, Keselowski went low to pass. Logano decided instead to link up with the No. 14 and tandem ahead of the pack, leaving Keselowski out to dry. Off of Turn 4 and seemingly out of nowhere, Truex Jr reappeared after a push from Wallace to take control on the final moments of the stage. Truex Jr went two-for-two on stages, maximizing the day to that point.

FINAL STAGE

Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE

As it always seems to go at these superspeedways, chaos erupted to close out the remaining stage of the event. Still in control was Keselowski, but the fight continued behind. Other drivers tried to position themselves for the closing laps and eventually things got too crazy.

The first victims of circumstance included Tyler Reddick, Logano, and Kurt Busch. Truex Jr also caught a piece of it, effectively ending his chances at a Daytona 500 victory. On the restart, things started getting even more dicey as new players came into the equation.

One of these new players was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Stenhouse Jr took the high line to the point against a Toyota tandem of Wallace and Kyle Busch. It stayed clean until just more than 10 laps to go when Larson, Kevin Harvick and Chris Buescher got checked up together on the high lane.

Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE

Buescher made it away fairly unscathed but Harvick, Larson, Elliott, Todd Gilliland and Noah Gragson all collected a decent amount of damage. A red flag period, just over five minutes, stopped the action for a quick cleanup entering Turn 1. The restart came with under 10 laps to go, and almost right away they were back under yellow.

Stenhouse Jr and Buescher were done. Wallace caught a piece of it and lost part of his fender. The final restart stage was set. Cindric and Blaney led the field back to the green. Keselowski tried to get back up but it turned into a battle between his former teammates at Team Penske off of Turn 4.

After teammates tangled and Blaney was out of it, Cindric kept in it and held off Wallace at the line. It’s Cindric’s first career Cup victory in eight career starts. As long as he stays in the Top 30 and there aren’t more than 16 winners this season, Cindric should be locked into the NASCAR Playoffs in his first full time season.

Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE

DAYTONA 500 TOP 10 RESULTS

Pos.Car #DriverTeam
12Austin Cindric (R)Team Penske
223Bubba Wallace23XI Racing
314Chase BriscoeStewart-Haas Racing
412Ryan BlaneyTeam Penske
510Aric AlmirolaStewart-Haas Racing
618Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs Racing
734Michael McDowellFront Row Motorsports
815David RaganRick Ware Racing
96Brad KeselowskiRFK Racing
109Chase ElliottHendrick Motorsports

OTHER NOTES

The defending Daytona 500 winner, Michael McDowell, wound up seventh but on the wrecker following the final lap. McDowell, along with David Ragan, were wrecked following the checkers after the field avoided an out-of-control Blaney.

Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE

Speaking of defending 500 winners, Denny Hamlin had a rough outing in his 17th attempt. In his previous 16 races in the Daytona 500, Hamlin has at least finished the race. After the wreck with Burton and some of his JGR teammates, the car was damaged beyond repair, resulting in his first Daytona 500 DNF.

Two-time stage winner Truex Jr rebounded to finish in 13th at the end of the event. He amassed 49 points by the end of the night, which puts him in to third overall leaving Daytona. Cindric and Keselowski lead the standings at 54 apiece.

POINTS AFTER RACE #1 – DAYTONA

Pos.Car #DriverTeamPoints
12Austin Cindric (R)Team Penske54
26Brad KeselowskiRFK Racing54
319Martin Truex JrJoe Gibbs Racing49
423Bubba Wallace23XI Racing47
514Chase BriscoeStewart-Haas Racing41
612Ryan BlaneyTeam Penske41
734Michael McDowellFront Row Motorsports39
818Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs Racing38
917Chris BuescherRFK Racing35
109Chase ElliottHendrick Motorsports34

UP NEXT

The second race of the 2022 season will take place at Auto Club Speedway next week. The Wise Power 400 will be on FOX or MRN if you’re listening on the radio. The action starts at 3:30 p.m. ET on February 27th, 2022.

Justin Melillo View All

Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com

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