Austin Cindric’s summer of dominance continued Saturday afternoon in the inaugural UNOH 188 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course.
Cindric, 22, of Mooresville, N.C., 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’ No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. That impressive ultimate margin of victory, however, is not indicative of the action-packed debut on Daytona’s famed road course.
Noah Gragson recovered from an off-course excursion early in the race while leading the field to finish third and maintain a perfect record of top-10 finishes on every Xfinity Series road-course event he has competed in. AJ Allmendinger and Andy Lally – both road-course experts – finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
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. Allmendinger spun Allgaier out of a top-five finish in the closing laps and was apologetic. Allgaier, one of the series-best road-course racers, approached Allmendinger after the race and shared his displeasure.
With no practice or qualifying and most of the competitors in the race completely new to the 3.61-mile, 14-turn course, the race was a steady dose of high-speed how-do-you-do. From overly ambitious restarts to simply missing corners while figuring out this brand-new competitive experience, 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 obviously back-to-back now. I didn’t feel like I drove my best today but we executed there at the end when it counts and that’s what makes these races so difficult to win.”
Cindric, who led 21 of the 52 total laps, led the opening 16 laps of the race to earn the Stage 1 win and bookended the work by leading the last five laps to claim his seventh career Xfinity Series victory. His five wins (and a second place) in the last six races ties a record held by the legendary Sam Ard set back in 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. 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, with Cindric tossing a water bottle toward Briscoe’s car under caution – continued late in the race until Briscoe was collected 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, another two of the Xfinity Series championship contenders, Kaulig Racing teammates Justin Haley and Ross Chastain simultaneously suffered race-ending issues – Haley with an off-course excursion and Chastain, 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 Xfinity Series playoff field, Cindric, Briscoe, Gragson, Jones, Burton and Haley have assured their chances at a title with victories.
Brandon Brown, who suffered a tough 34th-place finish, 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 in 13th.
The race provided a preview for Sunday’s doubleheader of Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series and Cup Series events, with the Xfinity Series field encountering trouble spots multiple times in the two chicanes. Turn 1 also proved difficult in late-race restarts with multiple tie-ups and instances of drivers running wide as they dove into the infield section.
The race was delayed by one hour, 50 minutes by lightning strikes just before pre-race ceremonies. When the race did start at 5:09 p.m. ET, NASCAR officials deemed the track damp, giving teams the option to add rain tires after the late-afternoon showers.
The Xfinity Series is set for a pair of races next weekend at Dover International Speedway, Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. ET. Both races are scheduled to be broadcast on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Note: Post-race inspection in the NASCAR Xfinity Series garage was completed with no issues.
Contributing: Staff reports