It seemed early on like Austin Cindric‘s race and playoff run were over at Bristol Motor Speedway during Saturday’s night race (Sept. 17).
But Cindric overcame a flat tire and losing seven laps to finish 20th and claim the final NASCAR Cup Series Round of 12 spot by just two points. The reason Cindric was able to finish so high up despite losing so many laps? Many of his playoff competitors had even bigger issues, and every single Toyota had a problem.
Cindric’s flat tire came on lap 85, and the caution flag did not fly for it. As a result, Cindric found himself in an early four-lap hole that would be seemingly impossible to climb out of.
“There’s a part of me that wants to go, ‘Man, that’s kind of bullshit. I blew a tire and didn’t get a caution,'” Cindric said. “But I would also think maybe NASCAR recognized there might be some issues with tires, probably understand, OK, it’s not just a one-time deal. Mine was the first to go.”
But the opportunity to gain positions quickly arose when both 23XI Racing Toyotas (Bubba Wallace, Ty Gibbs) and Martin Truex Jr. had power steering issues. Wallace and Gibbs went behind the wall before eventually coming back out (behind Cindric) while Truex was out of the race.
“It blew the seal out and pushed all the fluid out on the right front tire,” Truex told NBC. “Just unbelievable. What [Kevin] Harvick say? Crappy parts.”
Then Cindric passed another Toyota when Kyle Busch‘s engine expired on lap 269. The other two Toyotas of Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell also had issues, with both having flat tires. But neither’s problem was big enough for Cindric to pass them.
“Absolutely devastated,” Busch said. “Unfortunate circumstances obviously, another engine failure this week. … I can’t stress it enough how much I feel for my guys.”
Busch dropping out combined with Tyler Reddick suffering damage in a wreck started by Daniel Suarez on lap 278 led to a tight points battle between Busch, Reddick and Cindric the rest of the way. The two 23XI cars returned to the track, with Wallace passing Busch. Gibbs, however, parked the No. 23 just four laps shy of overtaking the No. 18.
“For a while, it was just drive as hard as I can as they fell off like flies,” Cindric said. “Try not to force any issues, try not to force any more right front tire failures. … I think I was tied with the 18 [Busch] for 100 laps.”
Cindric’s team didn’t start keeping him updated on the points situation until it got close and he was back in it.
“Not until there was a chance,” Cindric said. “I got told at the beginning of stage 3 how close it was, or how close it wasn’t. It was probably 16 out at the beginning of stage 3. Then we were five out, four out, tied with the 18. … A perfect storm in some ways.”
It seemed that Cindric had stalled out on positions he could gain until his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano along with Ty Dillon and Aric Almirola fell out of the race. That gave him the edge over Busch, and he was able to finish higher than Reddick due to the No. 8’s excessive damage and slower pace.
“One hell of a night,” Cindric said. “I still don’t think this place loves me back, but it showed me a little mercy tonight. We’ll take it and run with it and be on offense for the next three races just like we were to start Darlington this round and have some fun with it.”
Cindric now turns his attention to the Round of 12, where he starts out as the lowest seed and seven points below the cut line. But motivating himself to overcome that deficit shouldn’t be an issue after the Daytona 500 champion found a way to motivate himself to continue driving hard Saturday night, despite being so many laps down.
“I guess the funny thing is when I prep for these races, I don’t have much weight to lose, much to burn,” Cindric said. “So I always hydrate a ton. And I was thinking, ‘You know what, you hydrate for a reason. You have to pee really bad for a reason. You might as well use it.
“I’d say it’s the small motivating things. Maybe that’s a little weird, I don’t know. I came prepared and might as well give it all we got.”
About the author
Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.
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