Austin Cindric dominated the NASCAR Xfinity Series opener at Daytona which proved to be another speedweeks demolition derby on Saturday night.
Cindric, 22, started from the pole after qualifying was rained out and left the infield soaking wet on Saturday morning and led 28 of 122 laps, tying for the most laps led in the race.
For Cindric, who claimed the final transfer spot in the Cup Series’ Daytona 500 during Thursday night’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel, the victory marked his ninth win in Xfinity Series competition and his second in a row, dating back to last November’s championship weekend.
“Obviously, [we’re] coming off a lot of momentum winning that championship last year, but nothing is guaranteed and keep working hard,” Cindric said.
Additionally, Cindric’s victory was the first at the Daytona oval in the Xfinity Series for his team owner, Roger Penske.
Brett Moffitt, the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, won stage 2 and finished second to Cindric while Harrison Burton, the 2020 Xfinity Series rookie of the year, finished third after leading 28 laps.
The race was run under caution for almost 33% of its entirety, as 42 laps were consumed by nine caution periods, and there were a total of 16 lead changes between 11 different drivers.
Stage 1 – 30 laps
Reigning series champion Austin Cindric led the field to the green flag under overcast skies, but not without being challenged by Justin Allgaier. The two raced side-by-side for the first five laps before Alex Labbe got aero-loose coming out of turn 4 and spun, bringing the first caution of the night out. Under the caution, Noah Gragson, the defending race winner, was the only driver to pit.
The race resumed on lap 8 with part two of the Cindric-Allgaier battle. The pair of drivers who finished the 2020 season as the top two in points traded the lead for another three laps before their duel was halted. Labbe’s teammate, Josh Williams, blew a left-rear tire, bringing out the second caution of the race in just 11 laps.
When the battle for the lead resumed on lap 15, Cindric, now on the inside, cleared Allgaier, but a poorly-timed block on Allgaier allowed Riley Herbst in the no. 98 Mustang to show his strength as he grabbed the lead for the first time.
The caution came out for the third time at lap 19 for Williams, who had another on-track issue. There was a split strategy on pit road – some drivers elected to take tires and fuel while some drivers stayed on the track, hoping that their track position would be enough to secure stage points at lap 30.
Herbst and Cindric led the field when the green flag flew to restart the race on lap 23, but Ford duo wasn’t in the clear yet. All four Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas were running third through sixth. With two to go in the stage, the Gibbs cars pushed their way past Cindric, and on the last lap of the stage, Brandon Jones took his no. 19 to the front and won the stage by just inches.
The top 10 in the stage were Jones, Herbst, Ty Dillon, Cindric, Gragson, Daniel Hemric, Allgaier, Harrison Burton, Ryan Sieg and Brandon Brown.
Stage 2 – 30 laps
Under the stage-end caution, most drivers came down pit road to take tires and fuel, but a select few decided to stay out since they had been in the pits on lap, including Ryan Sieg, who led the field back to the green flag on lap 37. The field strung out in a single-file line on the outside of the track while Sieg led the freight train of cars around at speeds near 195 mph.
With time ticking away before the stage end, drivers began to jump to the inside. Dillon and Cindric were the first two, and they were followed by Jones, Hemric, and Brett Moffitt. Moffitt took the lead from Sieg on lap 57. Moffitt stayed out front to win the stage in his Chevrolet, and as he crossed the finish line to end the stage, Brandon Jones spun off the bumper of Myatt Snider’s no. 2 Chevrolet. He appeared to have the car saved in the tri-oval grass before the splitter dug into the infield, which crushed the nose of Jones’ Toyota, which slid back onto the track and collected Cody Ware’s no. 17 and Alex Labbe’s no. 36. The wreck prompted NASCAR to stop the race while safety workers cleaned up the accident.
The top 10 in stage 2 were Moffitt, Dillon, Cindric, Haley, Brown, Sieg, Jeremy Clements, Gragson, Snider and Josh Berry.
Race to the finish – 60 laps
When the red flag was lifted and replaced with the yellow, another cycle of pit stops allowed Dillon and Cindric to jump to the front, and they led the field to the green flag on lap 66, and the two battled side-by-side for nearly 15 laps.
Cindric was able to clear Dillon for the lead as drivers were dropping to the inside to pit, but somewhere in the middle of the pack, that message wasn’t communicated. Michael Annett, who was slowing to pit, was hit from behind and slid across the track in front of the no. 0 of Jeffrey Earnhardt, the no. 10 of Jeb Burton. All three drivers were involved in the wreck which brought out the caution flag. Noah Gragson, Ryan Sieg, Ryan Vargas, Chad Finchum, Bayley Currey, Colby Howard and Gray Gaulding were also involved in the accident.
Justin Haley lept to the lead on the restart with 37 laps remaining, but Harrison Burton was leading the outside and, with a little drafting help from Hemric, took the lead from Haley. The field got strung out behind the leader yet again, and Harrison Burton took his car to the outside to lead the long line of cars. No one stepped out of line as teams began creating alliances for drafting in the races final laps, but those plans were thrown out the window when Caesar Bacarella in the no. 90 spun on the frontstretch. He was able to avoid hitting any other cars or the walls, but the caution came out as a result of the spin.
The green flag flew again with 17 to go. Harrison Burton linked up with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates to reclaim the lead, but Ty Dillon jumped out of line and made contact with Daniel Hemric, in turn 3, starting a massive pileup that crushed up cars and ended the day for Josh Berry, Justin Allgaier and Justin Haley. Another handful of drivers like Riley Herbst, Jeb Burton, Hemric and Dillon himself suffered serious damage to their cars and took them out of contention to win.
The green flag came out with 8 laps to go with Cindric and Harrison Burton out front, but another wreck was triggered when Jeb Burton and Landon Cassill made contact with four to go, bringing out another caution.
The race restarted in overtime. AJ Allmendinger pushed Cindric to the front of the field, clear of Harrison Burton, and Cindric jumped to the outside, which had proven to be his safe line around the track all day. Harrison Burton and Brett Moffitt each took their shots on the final lap, but they couldn’t touch the defending series champion, who scored his first win at the Daytona tri-oval course.
Featured photo credit: John Raoux/AP Photo