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Cindric Wins the 64th Daytona 500 on Penske’s Birthday

Austin Cindric celebrates his maiden Cup win in grand fashion - the 64th Daytona 500. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Austin Cindric celebrates his maiden Cup win in grand fashion – the 64th Daytona 500. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — On the day “The Captain” Roger Penske turned 85 years old, the young prodigy in Austin Cindric brought home the ultimate birthday gift. In this case, Cindric earned a Daytona 500 victory, marking the 23-year-old’s maiden NASCAR Cup Series win in his eighth career Cup start.

Even before rolling into victory lane, the car broke and was stuck on the frontstretch. While the crew changed tires, Cindric paused and reflected on the biggest triumph of his racing career.

He’s no longer the guy that lost control in front of a Xfinity Series field on lap 6. No longer will he be remembered as the guy who lost out on back-to-back NXS titles by inches over Daniel Hemric at Phoenix last November.

Instead, he’ll forever be known as a Daytona 500 champion, the third guy to bring Penske such honorable victory.

“I broke the starter, and I blew out the right rear tire,” said Cindric. “Don’t think that’s anything bad.

“I was kind of stranded, so definitely a good time to collect my thoughts and just appreciate the moment there for a minute to be able to do this in front of a sellout crowd, to be able to do this in general, to be able to be part of this race, having a shot.

“It’s a racer’s dream, and so many people get close to it, and I feel very grateful and very proud to be able to pull it off.”

Strategy played a key role in Cindric’s maiden Cup triumph and rather overdue win for Team Penske in “The Great American Race.”

“I think it was really the strategy that was called by Jeremy (Bullins), putting Austin up on top and then him coming down over ahead of Ryan (Blaney),” said Penske. “We had talked all for weeks after last year when we were one-two and ended up in the fence, I guess you’d have to say, and they played ball, and Austin won.

“But the cars were good. I think for Ford, for us and the whole Ford group, worked really well together. We’ve worked hard as teams to try to develop a plan, and I think it paid off.”

The road to victory for Cindric got sketchy on lap 42 when Kaz Grala was one of two drivers, the other being Justin Haley, who lost a wheel in stage 1. While that happened, Cindric reacted and ran into Chase Briscoe on the backstretch.

Austin Cindric held off a bevy of heavy hitting contenders including Team Penske teammate, Ryan Blaney. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Austin Cindric held off a bevy of heavy hitting contenders including Team Penske teammate, Ryan Blaney. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

“I’m not quite sure if the 14 spotted the tire before we did,” Cindric on the incident with Briscoe.

“Obviously, I just ran over him and spun out, and I’m glad I didn’t really cost him anything in the race. Didn’t really actually change the race really at all for anybody. No harm, no foul.

“Definitely an ‘oh shit’ moment pretty early on. Otherwise, it didn’t really change a whole lot. You kind of have to put that behind you pretty quickly.”

Wild moment aside, Cindric showcased that last year’s strong effort was no fluke. He was among the frontrunners throughout the day. Whether he’s out front or helping his teammates and other Ford mates, Cindric’s maturity shined.

When the race went into overtime following a turn 4 crash involving Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chris Buescher, it was game on. The versatile racer perfectly timed his restart.

While Bubba Wallace got a strong charge towards the finish, Cindric held him off to get the victory.

Chaos ensued after the finish as Ryan Blaney, who tried getting a run on Cindric, lost control and caused an accordion effect accident. Keselowski got turned while defending Daytona 500 champ Michael McDowell and David Ragan crashed into the wall, capping off a competitive, yet costly 500 for several competitors.

Among those who had their days crushed were Cindric’s rookie rival Harrison Burton, who was collected in a multi-car crash in the closing laps of stage 1. Burton would go upside down, ending what was a solid Speedweek for the Wood Brothers racer.

Later in the race, Martin Truex Jr., who won the first two stages, was collected in a multi-car crash on Lap 152 that ended Joey Logano’s chances at a second Daytona 500 win. Truex ended up finishing 13th.

As the sun went down, carnage happened at start/finish when Kevin Harvick, Noah Gragson and defending Cup champion Kyle Larson tangled, bringing out a five-plus minute red flag. It was the fourth straight Daytona 500 to have a stoppage and the 21st overall in the race’s 64-year history.

One of those that survived the Daytona madness was Wallace, who got his second runner-up 500 finish. Compared to 2018, the result was crushing, more so that he came that close of bringing 23XI Racing its second superspeedway win.

It was another "oh so close" call for Bubba Wallace in the Daytona 500. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

It was another “oh so close” call for Bubba Wallace in the Daytona 500. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

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

Rounding out the top-three was Briscoe, who showed up when it mattered most after restarting sixth. The Stewart-Haas Racing competitor would’ve liked to help Brad Keselowski to get a run on Cindric but it didn’t pan out.

“Brad was having to drag so much brake for me to be able to help him,” said Briscoe. “I wish I was more help. If I could have locked on, I could have got him up there.

“We want to be a playoff contender this year, and having a good run here is a good start.”

Cindric’s crew chief Jeremy Bullins emotionally attributed the victory to Ryan Blaney, who he used to call the shots for over the years.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say thank you to Ryan. That’s a hell of a teammate,” a near tearful Bullins commented.

“I’ve been here with him and felt like we were going to win with him, and I can’t thank him enough for being that good of a teammate because we probably don’t win that race without him.”

Bullins also discussed about Cindric’s maturity as a racer. Any task given by the team, he’ll accomplish it.

“Austin has shown the last couple years in the Xfinity Series the amount of talent that he has,” said Bullins. “The thing that’s probably surprised me the most, since we knew all this was going on, is how hard he works at it, the time he spends away from the track, the questions he asks, just the effort and the studying that he puts into it to be good at it.

“To his credit, he’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do as a team, to try to learn and get better,” Bullins continued.

“Obviously, (he) did a tremendous job today of staying out of trouble, making moves at the right time, putting himself in position, and I don’t think you can express how hard it is to play defense at one of these races when you’re leading, to be able to finish that off.”

Penske backed up Cindric’s maturity by saying the rookie made no mistakes during the race.

“He was up second, third, almost the entire race, and then at the end to be able to pull it off,” Penske on Cindric. “Shows you the quality of kid he is and the experience that he already has as a young man. We’re very excited about the win.”

Cindric celebrated and gave a bear hug to a lot of people, ranging from his No. 2 Penske crew, family, fellow competitors, and a surprise group of fans – the United State Air Force Thunderbirds.

“No better way to create a bond than going nine G’s together in an F-16 and then win the Daytona 500 a couple days later. Talk about badass,” Cindric explained.

“I can’t even begin to say how cool of an experience that was. As someone that’s grown up loving Star Wars their entire life, that’s probably the closest I’ll get to flying in an X-wing.

“But definitely an amazing experience what those guys do, but also the people just in the Air Force in general and our armed forces, what they go through, what their bodies go through to keep us free and safe, it’s great perspective gained for sure and great perspective for me on the critical things for the human body like blood and oxygen. Like that’s important,” Cindric continued.

“Food and water go below blood and oxygen and being able to figure out what it takes to have the right blood flow and get the oxygen in the right way while you’re pulling nine G’s so you don’t pass out while you’re seeing tunnel vision.

“Then having to do the Duels the next night or a couple hours later was definitely an experience but something I’ll never forget.

“Obviously really cool. I didn’t expect to see them in Victory Lane. I told them if I won that they needed to be in Victory Lane, and they did just as they were told. Really cool to see them and share that moment,” Cindric concluded.

Austin Cindric's made the rookie battle quite tougher for Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Austin Cindric’s made the rookie battle quite tougher for Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Cindric’s victory currently puts him into the playoffs. If neither Burton or Todd Gilliland score a win or make the top-16 via points, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors may already be won.

However, there’s still 25 more regular season races which includes the next Sunday’s Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

It’ll be the first time the Cup Series will race the two-mile oval since 2020, won by Alex Bowman. Live race coverage of the 200-lap event begins at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

Stage 1 Results: Truex Jr., Keselowski, Gilliland, Stenhouse, Logano, A. Dillon, Ku. Busch, Jones, Larson and Elliott

Stage 2 Results: Truex Jr., Logano, Wallace, Keselowski, Stenhouse Jr., Cindric, Buescher, Harvick, Larson and Gilliland

Final Daytona 500 Top 10 Results: Cindric, Wallace, Briscoe, Blaney, Almirola, Ky. Busch, McDowell, Ragan, Keselowski and Elliott

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR and INDYCAR. Content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going. On the side, I also do sports production ranging from Seattle Kraken hockey to the 2023 NCAA Women's March Madness. All for the love of the game. With four National Motorsports Press Association photography awards, I'm not slowing down anytime soon. Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to HAIM. At times, there might be some Paul Thomas Anderson and Southern California references in my social media.

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