Austin Cindric and AJ Allmendinger stood atop the heap of pre-race favorites in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race, given their road-racing prowess and familiarity with the 3.61-mile layout at Daytona International Speedway.
Both of their cars, though, nearly went from top of the heap to the scrap heap after a rapidly escalating tussle at the end of the Super Start Batteries 188’s first stage. Cindric charged back to net a runner-up finish to first-time winner Ty Gibbs, minus the right-front fender of his Team Penske No. 22 Ford. Allmendinger fared worse with an off-course ricochet that left his Kaulig Racing No. 16 Chevrolet in 35th place, 13 laps down.
Cindric had designs on opening his Xfinity Series title defense by going 2-for-2 in the victory column, following his triumph last Saturday in the season-opening event on Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval. Instead, he was left with the prospect of processing his on-track tangle with Allmendinger, who has moved to a full-time slate this year after three straight seasons on a partial schedule.
“I doubt it,” Cindric said when asked if any resentment might linger. “I think he and I should talk about it, just to understand obviously we had two really great cars capable of winning the race. Definitely damaged mine, and I never saw him the rest of the afternoon, so I’m sure that obviously affected his chance of winning the race, so it’s frustrating but I think we can both learn from it and try not to do that again.
“He’s a grown-up, he’s been around. I’m sure we can talk it out and figure out how to do better going forward.”
Cindric led the first 10 laps in the first stage before giving way to Allmendinger. Cindric chased Allmendinger through the final chicane, and then dove to the inside groove headed to the start/finish line as the green-checkered flag flew.
Allmendinger kept his car tight on Cindric’s and the two came together in their contest for the lead. Allmendinger’s No. 16 entry took the brunt of it with a spin into the infield grass, and Cindric sustained his front-end damage just before capturing the Stage 1 win.
Riley Herbst’s No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford was sidelined after his own infield excursion to avoid Allmendinger’s car. Both Cindric and Allmendinger continued, with Cindric rallying for stage points in Stage 2 and Allmendinger losing several laps in the garage. Allmendinger had met the minimum speed before the team opted for repairs behind the pit wall.
Cindric, however, stayed in contention after his own team’s trusty repairs, jumping up to lead Laps 36-51 before pitting during a late caution period. That left him lined up 10th for the first overtime attempt and — after a chaotic Turn 3 jumble — sixth for the second OT. He picked his way up to second place, his eventual finishing spot, but didn’t have quite enough for rookie Gibbs.
“All in all, I’m not sure how avoidable any of tonight’s circumstances were,” Cindric said. “We still put ourselves in position to win the race at the end. Just wasn’t in the cards.”