Last Sunday afternoon at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, Austin Cindric stole the headlines when he shoved Kaz Grala out of the lead on the final lap, en route to his first career victory and a playoff berth for his team’s final season in the Camping World Truck Series.
The win, coupled with teammate Chase Briscoe’s seventh-place finish, locks both Brad Keselowski Racing trucks into the playoffs in its final season. But the trip to Victory Lane wasn’t without its own drama.
Cindric, who led the first 31 laps with Grala not far behind him, found himself deep in the field after a penalty for removing equipment (gas can) from his pit box. The green flag pass-through penalty saw him outside the top 15 late in the race, but a trio of back-to-back restarts allowed him to move all the way through the field to second.
As the laps wound down, Cindric clearly had the faster truck but kept losing ground to Grala in the turns. Finally, on the final circuit, the two entered Turn 5, and that’s where it all happened. Cindric drove in deep, slammed into Grala and sent him spinning out of the lead, while he went on to score his first career win.
Grala, though not at all pleased with being dumped, recovered quickly and still drove to a third-place finish,
“There was just no need for what happened to have happened,” Grala said. “I had a lot of respect for Austin (Cindric). I think he is a great road racer, but I lost some of that respect today.
“There’s a time and a place to move someone. You have to pick the right spot to make a move if you’re going to race someone clean. That wasn’t done [Sunday] though. If it had been me in that position, I would have moved him but I would not have taken him out like that.”
Despite having the Daytona win, Grala and the No. 33 team sure needed the momentum that a victory would have brought with it, not to mention the playoff points that he hasn’t managed to snag very many of this season.
“From my point of view, we were going for stage wins and race wins for the playoff points like anyone else because it doesn’t mean much to be in the playoffs if you’re the first one out. You really have to come to compete there. Those 5 points would have been extremely valuable for our season going forward.”
For his part, Cindric was unapologetic and has remained that way in interviews throughout the week.
“I’m not sure there was one highlight I saw all week where there wasn’t somebody getting into the back of somebody else to win the race, but I hate that it came down to that,” Cindric said. “I’ve known Kaz for a long time and I think he, or anyone else, would have done the exact same thing with that much on the line.
“The way NASCAR’s point system is now, you have to win and you’re in the playoffs. I feel like this team deserves the win and I feel like it’s going to uplift everyone in the shop.”
I have to at least give Cindric credit for being honest about his decision. He knew quite well exactly what he was doing, executed it and went on to celebrate it. But what he didn’t do was try to sugar coat it and say he got loose, didn’t mean to spin Grala, or whatever. He flat owned it, and that’s respectable in itself.
That said, it still was the wrong decision, regardless of what it did for Cindric’s playoff hopes.
It’s simply, really. Take a good look at this battle between Clements and Tifft. I’ll wait.
Note the differences between the two battles. Cindric never really raced Grala for the top spot. In fact, he couldn’t really get close enough to do much more than peek at a similar line. However, in the case of Clements vs. Tifft, the two fought hard and battled before it appeared both got loose, got together and spun. Clements just managed to recover faster than Tifft did.
“I should have maybe been a little more patient,” Clements said of the contact. “But it was coming on the last lap. He’s probably mad though, and I’m sorry to him.
As far as Tifft is concerned, he was rightfully upset. Though he’s comfortably in the XFINITY playoff field, the driver of the No. 19 Toyota is still searching for his first career win.
“Obviously no matter what it’s tough. You could see there he got a little bit free underneath me,” Tifft explained after the race. “I wish we could have raced it out to the last lap. We were really struggling on old tires.
“Man, it’s just – it’s tough to come that close, but we’ll keep knocking on the door, that’s all we can do. We’ll just keeping plugging along, it’s all we can do.”
For a moment, though, let’s put aside the actual action and whether it’s right or wrong, especially since NASCAR fans are passionate about their views, and no amount of what I say here will convince you to change your mind if you’re already just fine with Cindric’s decision.
Instead, there’s actually a bit of positive that can be taken out of the whole thing. First and foremost, it would be completely wrong not to recognize the class and grace Grala handled the whole thing with.
Here you have a driver who hasn’t even sniffed much of a hint of the lead since he was out front for 14 laps in the season opener at Daytona in February. February! He was so close to building valuable momentum ahead of the playoffs beginning in a few weeks when the victory was snatched away in one aggressive move. And though he could have just as easily run his mouth with name-calling and trashing Cindric, Grala simply expressed his disappointment better than many Cup drivers manage to do.
Beyond that, the dump-and-run has had people talking about the Truck Series for a few days now, and that can never be a bad thing for a series that needs a serious injection of life in a hurry if it expects to remain in the sport for years to come.
The bottom line is, right or wrong, Cindric has locked himself into the playoff field, and NASCAR made the right decision not to penalize him for the move. He just needs to be prepared to handle any potential retaliation in the coming weeks as gracefully as Grala handled being wrecked out of the lead on Sunday.