Austin Cindric hoists first Xfinity Series championship trophy in Phoenix

Austin Cindric secured the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series title on Saturday at Phoenix Raceway. The driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford bested fellow Championship 4 contenders Chase Briscoe, Justin Haley and Justin Allgaier to score his first NASCAR national series championship.

Cindric came from behind Allgaier during an overtime restart and passed him and Allgaier’s JR Motorsports teammate Noah Gragson for the race win and the title clincher. Crew chief Brian Wilson had Cindric come to pit road for fresh tires during the race’s final caution period, and that proved to be the key to winning the restart over Allgaier, who was on older tires.

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It was Cindric’s eighth career Xfinity win and it came in his 100th career start. It was also his sixth victory in a breakout 2020 season for the 22-year-old from Mooresville, North Carolina.

“I watched Sheldon Creed do it last night, so why couldn’t we?” Cindric said about coming to pit road late. “Amazing effort by this 22 team. Brian Wilson and all the guys. Everybody back at the shop. There was a lot of work put into this race car.”

Though he made a name for himself as a road-course ace last season — his two wins coming on that track type — Cindric earned his first win of 2020 by mastering an oval. It was early evidence that the driver had developed into a contender to win on any track type and would be a threat to win the championship.

Cindric actually went back-to-back at Kentucky Speedway in July during the Xfinity Series’ first doubleheader weekend, then followed up those victories with a third at Texas Motor Speedway the next weekend.

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Cindric still flexed his road-course prowess, winning at Road America and the Daytona International Speedway Road Course. The wins, yet again, were back-to-back. It was the Xfinity Series’ debut on the Daytona Road Course, too and marked a stretch that saw him win five time in six races.

This is Team Penske’s second driver championship in the Xfinity Series. The other belongs to Brad Keselowski from 2010, two years prior to his run to the NASCAR Cup Series crown.

Although Cindric entered the Phoenix win without a win since August, he advanced through the playoffs on the basis of points. In the six-race slate prior to the championship, he had four top-10 showings. The two outliers came at Talladega Superspeedway (34th, wreck) in the Round of 12 and Kansas Speedway (28th) in the Round of 8. His best finish was fourth at Texas, the Round of 8’s middle event.

This championship also signifies the first for Cindric’s crew chief, Wilson. The two have worked together for two seasons now. They placed sixth in the final standings last year.

Cindric will return to the Xfinity Series in 2021. He and Team Penske inked a multi-year deal that says Cindric will run one more full-time season in the Xfinity Series before officially moving up to the Cup Series in 2022. Once at the top level, Cindric will take over the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford currently driven by Matt DiBenedetto.