Thinkin’ Out Loud: Austin Cindric Snags 2022 Daytona 500 Victory

What happened?

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Austin Cindric won his first-ever NASCAR Cup Series race in only his eighth career start and second in the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 20 by barely nipping out 23XI Racing driver Bubba Wallace by a nose. Following him to the line were Chase Briscoe, Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola, who earned a top-five finish in his last Daytona 500 as a full-time driver.

See also
Aric Almirola: 'I'll Want This One Back For Sure'

Cindric is the first rookie to win the Daytona 500 since Trevor Bayne in 2011.

How did it happen?

With teamwork.

As almost all superspeedway races do nowadays, Sunday’s Daytona 500 ended with a two-lap overtime shootout to the finish.

After Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was on the receiving end of a hard push from Brad Keselowski, Stenhouse found himself in the wall and brought out the caution. That put Cindric in a place many drivers rarely want to be in the Daytona 500: in first place with two laps to go.

The good news? Beside Cindric’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford was his teammate, the No. 12 of Blaney. The bad news? Sitting behind him was Keselowski, who throughout the race had earned the reputation of pushing drivers to the point of wrecking.

As the green flag flew, Blaney allowed teammate Cindric to drop ahead of him, so it was a two-car Penske lead on the bottom lane, leaving Keselowski to rely on sixth-place Briscoe on the top. For a lap and a half, Briscoe pushed Keselowski with all his might but to no avail. The Penske duo had the upper hand, exiting turn 4 with the checkered flag in sight.

Blaney, knowing by that point either he or Cindric would be the winner, made his move to the outside while approaching the tri-oval. Cindric went up to block and nudged his teammate into the wall.

That allowed fifth-place Wallace to challenge for the lead on the inside, creating a drag race to the line. But the Penske duo had played the situation perfectly, allowing Cindric to keep his nose ahead by 0.036 seconds.

Who stood out?

After that race, Keselowski will likely be the talk of the garage for many race teams – for better or for worse.

Keselowski, who has yet to win the Daytona 500 despite having six wins at the speedway’s sister track, Talladega Superspeedway, was up front early and often. In fact, before finishing ninth in the first full points-paying race with his own race team, Keselowski led a race-high 67 laps.

However, he did not make many friends along the way.

With a new race car, drivers were using Daytona to test the limits of the Next Gen and its drafting capabilities. Nobody in the field pushed the limits more than Keselowski.

On lap 62, Keselowski was pushing pseudo-teammate Harrison Burton to the front of the pack. Problem was, it appeared he may have pushed a little too hard.

Denny Hamlin, who was involved in the incident, voiced his displeasure.

See also
Harrison Burton Flips In Wild Daytona 500 Crash

With less than 10 laps to go, trouble struck again with Keselowski’s front bumper as the epicenter. This time, Stenhouse Jr. got the worst of it.

Like Hamlin, Stenhouse was not pleased, putting the blame squarely on Keselowski’s No. 6 for the incident.

“I guess the 6 tried to wreck everybody in the field ’til he won,” Stenhouse said. “But I guess his other car won that he gave up, so kudos to him.”

Keselowski survived that incident, but finally got caught up in a last-lap wreck (this one not of his making) that relegated the No. 6 to ninth.

Whether you look negatively or favorably at Keselowski’s performance, there’s no doubt he left his mark on the day.

Who fell flat?

For the underdog hopefuls of Kaz Grala and The Money Team Racing, Greg Biffle and NY Racing, and Jacques Villeneuve and Team Hezeberg, the clock struck midnight early on their Cinderella stories.

Before the end of stage one, each of the three drivers that had tasted the glory of racing or qualifying their way into the Daytona 500 experienced issues that either took them behind the wall or out of contention.

First, it was Biffle.

Biffle did manage to return to the track, but not before he was well out of contention. The Biff’s welcomed return to Cup Series competition ended with him in 36th place, 65 laps down after something got stuck in his fuel line.

For Grala, he became one of a few casualties of the growing pains of the Next Gen car – or more specifically, its wheels.

The Money Team was able to place a new wheel back on but faded into obscurity as the race went on. Grala’s night ended with a 26th-place finish, five laps off the pace.

For Villeneuve, aside from a spin and save while entering pit road during green flag stops, there was no violent crash or heartbreaking mechanical issue. It was simply a lack of speed for the No. 27 team. Villeneuve, after qualifying his way into the Daytona 500 on speed alone, was unable to stay with the lead draft all race long. He finished 22nd, three laps down in his first Great American Race at age 50.

SPEEDWEEKS COVERAGE 2022 – DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY

DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY RACE WEEKEND CENTRAL

What did this race prove?

We still have much to learn about this Next Gen car.

Wheel issues and pushing pains alike, there’s still plenty to digest about NASCAR’s new vehicle. One wheel falling off a car is weird, but two is a pattern.

When Grala lost his wheel, many knew it was likely a team getting used to the new one lug nut tire change. When a second one occurred, however, off the Kaulig Racing car of Justin Haley, many started holding their breath.

Thankfully, those are the only two wheels that found themselves detached Sunday.

Among the Next Gen growing pains were issues with bump drafting. Pushing too aggressively has always been an issue for superspeedway racing but stood out as the cause of many of the big pileups we saw on Sunday (see Keselowski above).

When Burton came out of the infield care center after his car had rolled over, he noted the new bumpers are not as easy to draft with.

“These bumpers don’t line up as good as the old ones do,” said Burton. “Through testing, we always found that dead center was the best.”

To make matters more interesting, it appears that the Chevrolets may have a disadvantage when it comes to pushing.

“It’s certainly more challenging depending on the car manufacturer that you’re pushing against,” said Tyler Reddick, who was involved in a crash on lap 151. “The Chevys have a little bit more rounded front and rear bumper. The Fords are a little bit more squared up and so are the Toyotas.

“It’s one of those little details that really has meant more than a lot of us really understood coming into this race or superspeedway racing with the Next Gen car.”

The highest finishing Chevrolet in the race was Chase Elliott in 10th.

Paint scheme of the race

We saw many veteran drivers of the sport boast their regular colors with familiar sponsors.

However, when the FOX camera panned across the field as they drove by at over 190 miles per hour, one car stood out. It was the blended blue, red, purple and orange No. 50 of The Money Team Racing.

For a team that didn’t even exist at the end of last season, The Money Team Racing was able to pull off a great looking car design for its new sponsor, Pit Viper.

Better than last time?

Unlike this year, last year’s Daytona 500 had a rain delay, and then turned into drivers waiting out a fuel mileage race. While it ended with a wild – and scary – last-lap crash, it was mostly a disappointment to fans.

While the 2022 edition was certainly chaotic at times, there was plenty of side-by-side racing that mirrored the restrictor-plate races of old. Not to mention, we didn’t see a fiery and scary crash on the last lap as the leaders (mostly) raced clean to the line.

In addition, 2021 had limited capacity seating for fans, an issue that was completely out of everyone’s hands. This year, full capacity for the Daytona 500 was back and it was better than ever.

As far as superspeedway races go, it was on par with many. As far as Daytona 500s go, it was the best in a couple of years.

What’s next?

For the first time since 2020, the NASCAR Cup Series is heading out to Auto Club Speedway in southern California.

Competition at the two-mile oval begins on Saturday, Feb. 26 with Cup Series practice at 2 p.m. ET and will be followed by qualifying at 2:35 p.m. ET with TV coverage being provided by FOX Sports 1. The Wise Power 400 will follow on Sunday, Feb. 27 at 3:30 p.m. ET  on FOX.

See also
Austin Cindric Arrives With Daytona 500 Win: 'We've Come a Long Way'

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and wrote for IMSA in 2020 after graduating with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

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Bill B

I would rate the race better than average as Daytona 500s go in the last 20 years. At least the new car didn’t produce a boring, single file race. As usual, who did well and who didn’t was based more on circumstances than anything else. Look at that top 15, some of those guys won’t get another top 15 for the rest of the season and if they do, it will probably be at one of the other RP races.

As documented Keselowski wins the D-bag of the race award. It seems he came to Daytona with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. In the end, all he proved was that if you push someone hard enough, you can push them right out of the way and cause a big wreck. That’s dirty racing as far as I am concerned. He isn’t the only one using this tactic, I think it has become more prevalent in the last few years because of the aggressive pushing that has become the norm, still these guys know there is a limit.

Congrats to Cindric. I think he is the real deal and will contend for a few wins this year. He was competitive in the cup races he ran last year. The only thing that will hold him back is not being on one of the top tier teams.

Mike

So you dont think penske racing is a top tier team? Thats news to me and i would say most nascar fans that know anything about the sport.

Bill B

Answered this below,,,, I made a dumb mistake. Penske is definitely a top tier team.

Rob

Two questions:

1) Bill B – Penske is NOT one of the top tier teams? Really?

2) Bubba Wallace had a huge chunk of the quarter panel/fender/wheel well torn off – is that not a ‘required piece’ like the hood flaps that were mentioned several times? Why wasn’t he forced to make repairs?

Bill B

Yep, you are right. I was confusing him with Chastain (who finished dead last) in the 1 car. I guess because they are both relatively new drivers in the series and both their names start with a C.
Thanks for straightening me out.

For the second point I don’t think a front fender is a required part. We routinely see them cut the fender off when they get in a wreck.

Last edited 4 months ago by Bill B
Bill W.

I,am confused, who are the top tier teams?

Bill B

What, have you been living in a cave?…

Hendrick, Gibbs, Penske and possibly SHR. You know the teams that keep contending for a championship each year.

Last edited 4 months ago by Bill B
Bill W.

My bad,my question to Rob should have said who does he think are the top tier teams.

DoninAjax

Austin Cindric won Sunday, Austin Hill won Saturday, Austin Dillon has won the 500.

Mr Yeppers

I laughed every time I kept hearing the work “sellout crowd”. Everyone fails to mention the track removed around 60,000 to 70,000 seats a few years back.

Jeremy

Right? I had tickets in 1998 (when Florida burned down, my brother got to go to the rescheduled race because I couldn’t make it). Anyway, those seats were up high on the exit of turn 2. I didn’t see any seats Sunday beyond the entrance/exit of pit road.

Someone should do a parody… have 4 fold up chairs by a backyard go-cart track with a 6 year old standing beside a go-cart gushing about a sold out crowd as Mom, Dad, Gma and Gpa sit in the 4 chairs.

Overall, agree that for a RP race it was one of the more tolerable ones. The new wheel seemed to create more issues than it solved, but teams will figure out how to improve it. The composite cars seemed to spread a lot more debris when wrecking than I remember in the past.

Kevin in SoCal

Still, 120,000+ plus fans is more than almost every other race track and sports stadium.

Mr Yeppers

101,500 is what a search stated if thats correct.This got me curious. Looks like 7 tracks have more capacity than Daytona, which was surprising to me.

JT

The 2022 version of the 500 was fine. It was pretty much “situation normal” at the finish where the winner managed to squeeze out of a last-lap, multi-car wreck and made it to the finish line. Congrats to Cindric for being in the right place at the right time and getting the “W”.

As for Kez, he drove like he was angry, likely due to the upcoming penalties from NASCAR for modifying the wheels. It wasn’t as egregious as the infamous “rocket fuel” incident by Mikey Waltrip’s team many years ago, but the punishment for modifying a stock part probably will be severe. That said, Kez’s antics put a bunch of good cars on the tow hook yesterday.

Carl D.

Man, it’s a tough day to be a BadBrad fan. I have to agree he raced like a Buschwhacker yesterday. The only way to spin that as positive is that he had the speed to run up front and was trying to get there. Yeah, I’m making excuses.

I enjoyed the race for the same reason as others have pointed out. The Burton wreck was ugly but looked worse than it was. Or maybe the Myatt Snider wreck on Saturday set the bar for “scary” a bit too high. All in all, though, a decent end to a decent Speed Week.

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