DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Austin Cindric threw a water bottle at one competitor early and escaped a wild melee that took out several others late. Although not as smooth a run as he’s grown accustomed to lately, he still ended the day in a familiar spot: in victory lane.
Cindric won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on the road course at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, his fifth victory in the last six events.
Cindric looked like the guy to beat early but had to escape a crazy restart late to stay in contention. He passed leader Brandon Jones shortly after taking the green flag with five laps to go on the 14-turn, 3.61-mile layout and did what he’s done often in the last months and a half — take the checkered flag.
“I wish our fans could see that race because obviously it was a thriller,” Cindric said.
It was Cindric’s second win in two weeks on a road course. He won at Road America in Wisconsin last week.
Much like that one, his toughest competition at Daytona was Chase Briscoe and AJ Allmendinger. But Briscoe and Allmendinger sustained damage on a restart with seven to go. They got caught up in an aggressive dive into the first turn. About a dozen drivers hit the brakes late and went off track, taking out Briscoe and doing enough damage to ruin Allmendinger’s chances.
Cindric escaped unscathed and drove away in the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske after passing Jones. Cindric opened a seven-second lead down the stretch and cruised to his seventh Xfinity Series victory in the last two years _ four of them on road courses.
Jones was second, followed by Noah Gragson and Allmendinger.
Allmendinger said he had no chance of passing Cindric, who was “best in class.”
Briscoe, though, challenged Cindric much of the afternoon. They exchanged stage wins, with Cindric winning the first and Briscoe claiming the second.
That second segment was the testiest of all. Cindric was 13th early in the stage before picking off car after car. He made up a ton of ground in braking zones, picking off car after car, and eventually caught Briscoe on the stage’s final lap. Cindric made the pass as they moved from the infield part of the road course to the high-banking first turn. But Briscoe caught Cindric in the chicane coming out of the final turn.
Cindric expressed frustration with Briscoe over his radio following the pass, vowing to put Briscoe into the wall if he blocks him while braking again. Cindric then pulled next to Briscoe under caution and threw a water bottle at him.
“I think there was give and take available on both ends,” Cindric said. “I probably could have been more patient; I think he could have been less aggressive on his defence. Overall, I think it’s two brothers fighting and then they go yell at mom, saying it’s his fault. It’s easy for me to say because I was the winner of the race.”
The beginning of the race was filled with problems — no surprise given that so many drivers were unfamiliar with the revamped track. The new chicane coming off the high-banked speedway’s final turn posed huge issues, with numerous guys forced to come to a complete stop after blowing through those turns.
Cindric, Briscoe and Allmendinger handled it better that most even though had other woes.
Cindric caused himself several spots on one restart. Briscoe’s team put on wet-weather tires before the rain- and lightning-delayed green flag, a decision they immediately regretted and had to pit to fix. Allmendinger got into a late collision with Justin Allgaier and shouldered the blame.
The chaos could have been an indication of what to expect in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Daytona. Few drivers have any familiarity with the layout, and none of them got any actual practice or qualifying laps leading into the weekend. Many relied on virtual simulators in hopes of getting a feel for the track.