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Strong bids by Briscoe, Cindric head south in final stage at Talladega

As the lone Ford drivers in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series field, Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric formed a modest but mighty two-car attack that dominated the first two stages at Talladega Superspeedway.

After playing the opening two stages like a fiddle, the tune changed dramatically for the title contenders over the final portion of Saturday’s Ag-Pro 300. Briscoe’s Stewart-Haas Racing No. 98, bumped twice under serious pressure from challenger Noah Gragson in the closing laps, scraped to a 19th-place finish. Cindric, who kept his No. 22 Team Penske Mustang in close formation behind Briscoe throughout the early going, wound up 34th after a pit entry gone awry midway through the final stage.

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Briscoe already had safe passage into the Round of 8, the next three-race set for the Xfinity Series playoffs, after winning last weekend’s playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Among his goals for Saturday was to help Cindric, linked to him by bonds of manufacturer and friendship, gain ground in his own postseason quest.

The plan went swimmingly early, with Briscoe and Cindric sticking to the game plan and finishing 1-2 at each of the two stage breaks. That added two playoff points to Briscoe’s tally and gave Cindric a leg up in the standings with 18 stage points added to his cushion.

Cindric inadvertently broke up their 1-2 punch when his No. 22 skittered out of control off Turn 4 in a failed pit-stop approach, nosing into the inside retaining wall and ending his day. He completed just 75 of the 113 laps but still exited Talladega ranked second in the playoff standings thanks to his stage-points bonanza.

“It looked like the whole pack was going to try to stop there and I felt like that was chaos, especially with how far back in the pack we were,” Cindric said of the mid-stage stack-up. “I just got smoked from behind. I had no chance of making it to pit road. It is really unfortunate. Obviously we hit the wall a ton. …

“We ran up front all day. Unfortunately, circumstances kept me and the 98 from being up front with the way the slower cars stayed out. The way it worked out we went straight to the back and didn’t even have a chance. I can’t even say that we put ourselves back there. It really sucks but it is part of this type of racing. We were hoping to get ourselves locked into the next round today but we will have to go fight for it next week.”

Cindric’s sudden exit left Briscoe to go it alone for the Ford camp down the stretch, and he nearly made his solo charge for the checkers work once the race ticked down to an every-man-for-himself scenario. Briscoe started from the pole and led a race-best 73 laps, but his aggressive blocking up front led to a pair of pushes from Gragson’s No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevy that shuffled him out of line at the end, and a scrub of the outside retaining wall on the next-to-last lap ultimately slowed his progress.

“Yeah, at the end you are doing everything you can to protect the runs and he is doing everything he can to make moves,” Briscoe said. “It is just part of racing here. It was exciting, at least on my end. I about wrecked two or three times trying to block. It was cool. … To win two stages, that is huge going into the next round. (The finish) obviously doesn’t tell the whole picture but that is part of racing here and we will go to the Roval next week and have some fun.”