Austin Cindric’s summer of dominance continued Saturday afternoon in the inaugural UNOH 188 NASCAR Xfinity Series race on the Daytona International Speedway road course.
The 22-year-old earned his fifth victory in the last six races, his No. 22 Team Penske Ford pulling away to a hefty 7.108-second win over Brandon Jones’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the closing laps. That large margin of victory, however, is not indicative of NASCAR’s action-packed debut on Daytona’s famed road course.
Noah Gragson finished third, recovering from an off-course excursion early in the race while leading to maintain his perfect record of top-10 finishes on every Xfinity Series road course event in which he’s competed. A.J. Allmendinger and Andy Lally – both road course experts – finished fourth and fifth.
Jeremy Clement, Sunoco rookies Riley Herbst and Harrison Burton, veteran Justin Allgaier and rookie Myatt Snider rounded out the top 10 in well-earned, masterful drives to the finish.
Allgaier and Allmendinger had words on pit road after the race, the latter spinning Allgaier out of a top-five finish in the closing laps. Allmendinger was apologetic after Allgaier, another one of the series’ top road course racers, approached him after the race to share his displeasure.
With no practice or qualifying and most of the Xfinity competitors completely new to the 3.61-mile, 14-turn course, the race was a steady dose of high-speed how-do-you-do. From over-ambitious restarts to missed corners figuring it out, there was action from green to checkered flags.
“I’m not sure anyone was really all that happy with their race cars, you know. Unfortunately I have the perspective of driving really fast race cars at this track,” said Cindric, who has competed in three Rolex 24 at Daytona IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship races on the road course.
“It’s a great credit to my team, MoneyLion and the guys. … That’s five wins on the year, and obviously back-to-back now. I didn’t feel like I drove my best today but we executed there at the end when it counted.
Cindric, who led 22 of the 52 total laps, led the opening 16 laps of the race to earn the Stage 1 win, and he bookended the work by leading the last five laps to claim his seventh career Xfinity Series victory. His five wins (plus a second place) in the last six races ties a record held by the legendary Sam Ard since 1983.
Cindric’s chief rival – as has been the case all season – was fellow Ford driver Chase Briscoe, who led a race-best 26 laps on Saturday. Cindric and Briscoe put on a master class of road course dueling — particularly in the second stage — with Briscoe, also a five-race winner in 2020, earning the green-and-white checkered flag in that sprint.
Their battle — at times contentious — continued until late in the race when Briscoe was taken out in a multi-car restart melee with eight laps remaining. Briscoe’s No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford suffered too much damage to continue and he was scored 29th – his worst finish of the year.
Similarly, two other Xfinity Series championship contenders — Kaulig Racing teammates Justin Haley and Ross Chastain — simultaneously suffered race-ending issues. Haley was out with an off-course excursion; Chastain suffered a mechanical issue. They finished 36th (Chastain) and 38th (Haley), their worst finishes of the season as well.
With seven races remaining to set the 12-driver playoff field, Cindric, Briscoe, Gragson, Jones, Burton and Haley all have assured their chances at a title with victories.
Brandon Brown, who suffered a tough 34th-place finish on Saturday, holds the final 12th place transfer position in the driver standings, but is only 28 points up on Saturday’s sixth-place finisher Jeremy Clements.
1. (1) Austin Cindric, Ford, 52.
2. (10) Brandon Jones, Toyota, 52.
3. (3) Noah Gragson, Chevrolet, 52.
4. (11) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 52.
5. (6) Andy Lally, Chevrolet, 52.
6. (18) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 52.
7. (15) Riley Herbst #, Toyota, 52.
8. (9) Harrison Burton #, Toyota, 52.
9. (17) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 52.
10. (27) Myatt Snider #, Chevrolet, 52.
11. (8) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 52.
12. (19) Josh Bilicki, Toyota, 52.
13. (22) Tommy Joe Martins, Chevrolet, 52.
14. (34) Bayley Currey(i), Chevrolet, 52.
15. (7) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 52.
16. (32) Jade Buford, Chevrolet, 52.
17. (26) Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 52.
18. (24) Jesse Little #, Chevrolet, 52.
19. (30) Scott Heckert, Toyota, 52.
20. (33) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 52.
21. (21) Stephen Leicht, Toyota, 52.
22. (36) Matt Mills, Chevrolet, 52.
23. (31) Kody Vanderwal #, Chevrolet, 52.
24. (14) Josh Williams, Chevrolet, 52.
25. (20) Mike Wallace, Chevrolet, 52.
26. (25) Joe Graf Jr #, Chevrolet, 51.
27. (16) Alex Labbe, Chevrolet, 50.
28. (37) Brandon Gdovic, Toyota, Accident, 47.
29. (2) Chase Briscoe, Ford, Accident, 46.
30. (35) Bobby Reuse, Toyota, 46.
31. (12) Preston Pardus, Chevrolet, Accident, 45.
32. (28) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 43.
33. (29) Earl Bamber, Chevrolet, Accident, 41.
34. (13) Brandon Brown, Chevrolet, Axle, 40.
35. (38) Harold Crooms, Toyota, Brakes, 36.
36. (4) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 34.
37. (23) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, Accident, 14.
38. (5) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, Suspension, 11.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 81.894 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 17 Mins, 32 Secs. Margin of Victory: 7.108 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 7 for 8 laps.
Lead Changes: 7 among 6 drivers.
Lap Leaders: A. Cindric 1-16;N. Gragson 17;C. Briscoe 18-31;J. Bilicki 32;C. Briscoe 33-44;B. Currey(i) 45;B. Jones 46-47;A. Cindric 48-52.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Chase Briscoe 2 times for 26 laps; Austin Cindric 2 times for 21 laps; Brandon Jones 1 time for 2 laps; Bayley Currey(i) 1 time for 1 lap; Noah Gragson 1 time for 1 lap; Josh Bilicki 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 22,9,07,18,21,7,98,68,1,02
Stage #2 Top Ten: 98,22,20,16,02,36,21,19,7,18