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June 3, 2024

Horseshoe or not, Team Penske soars with spectacular showing

MADISON, Ill. — Following Sunday’s Enjoy Illinois 300 at World Wide Technology Raceway, a race fan continued their tradition of delivering the race winner a horseshoe. It began with the track’s inaugural Cup winner, Joey Logano, in 2022.

“I guess he gives them to the winners every year,” explained Austin Cindric, who entered Sunday with an average finish of 23.3 through the first 14 races. “I guess Joey (Logano) has one. So, I have one now because I won today.

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“Kind of makes sense, right?”

Team Penske knew an opportunity presented itself over the weekend at Gateway. The 1.25-mile, egg-shaped oval has been an adequate track for the team since it joined the Cup Series schedule in 2022.

RELATED: Rewind to all of the action from Sunday’s race at WWT Raceway

Logano had a splendid average finish of second across the two previous races at Gateway. Ryan Blaney wasn’t so shabby either, with an average result of fifth. Cindric barely missed the top 10 in both previous races.

But Penske had slipped in recent weeks as the team’s three drivers combined for a single top-10 finish across the previous six events in 2024. Penske needed to capitalize on one of its best recent tracks.

That’s exactly what happened on Sunday.

The speed that the team showcased in Saturday’s 30-minute practice session panned out during the race. Until the final lap, all three cars were factors inside the top 10. Blaney and Cindric placed inside the top five in the opening stage, with Logano collecting a pair of stage points in ninth. All three Penske Fords were inside the top five at the conclusion of the second stage, joining Christopher Bell and Chase Elliott.

With the laps winding down, it appeared as though Blaney had a legitimate shot at winning. He had to fend off Bell, and with 19 laps remaining, the No. 20 car had a mechanical issue. Blaney could cruise to the victory.

Or so he thought.

Instead, the No. 12 car ran out of fuel while exiting Turn 4, coming to the white flag. Cindric was there to capitalize and had a big enough advantage over Denny Hamlin to secure Penske’s first points-paying win of the season.

WATCH: Cindric on electric win | Logano on top five | Blaney on final lap

“Going into the race today, I went to bed last night knowing I’d be really, really disappointed if one of us didn’t win,” Cindric said. “Just happy that we were in position there when [Blaney] ran out, bring home a win because this team deserves it.”

The checkered flag snapped an 85-race winless streak for Cindric, dating back to the 2022 Daytona 500 in his rookie tour. It marks the eighth top-five finish of his career but the first on a track that isn’t considered a superspeedway or road course.

Rounding out the top five, Logano was able to snap a six-race streak of placing outside the top 10, his longest such stretch under the Penske banner.

Logano was pleased with the organization’s performance, but Cindric’s victory meant he remained chalk on the playoff grid in 18th despite gaining 16 points on the elimination line.

“It was important,” Logano said of Penske’s day. “We need to win, obviously. Scoring points on days like today is important, so I’m glad we were able to do that. It wasn’t the victory that we were hoping for, but a Penske car got into Victory Lane, so I would call that a success.”

The reigning series champion Blaney stumbled to 24th on the final lap but left with 29 points, his second-best output since mid-April at Texas Motor Speedway.

“It was a good day for our cars to run first, fifth and we were there in the top five,” a stewing Blaney said. “Proud of the effort, and I’m proud a Penske car won.”

Collectively, the Penske cars led 74 laps, still shy of Bell’s race-high of 80. The 53 laps led for Cindric are the most laps he’s ever led in a Cup race. He joins Brad Keselowski as the second Ford driver to lock themselves into the 2024 postseason.

“Super critical for us,” Cindric said of the team’s performance. “RFK has definitely shown speed from the Ford side and been able to prove that we can run up front and win in this package. There’s a lot of conversation about different OEMs, this and that. That’s definitely something we look at as a race team to try and improve and get better.

“Barely being able to run top 10 with one car at Charlotte after winning the year before, Joey and I, best we could do is 14th and 20th. That’s last week, the last thing in our head. Easy to get down on, but this team has an incredible ability to be consistent, whether it’s at the Indy 500 or this weekend at Gateway. Having incredibly consistent pace between all of our cars, all through the get-go.”

MORE: Every Team Penske victory | Team Penske wins by driver

There is still plenty of work to be done for one of NASCAR’s most successful teams.

“Believe in confidence, momentum as much as you want,” Cindric added. “Too much of a realistic guy, especially with myself, to think that this is just going to make me drive harder and be a better race car driver moving forward. I can promise you I’ve been giving it absolutely everything I have to run 20th some weeks.”

No horseshoe was needed on Sunday, however. Team Penske flat-out won.