Cup rookie Austin Cindric wins Daytona 500 on Roger Penske’s 85th birthday

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Austin Cindric opened his rookie season in the NASCAR Cup Series as the winner of the Daytona 500.

The Team Penske driver captured the 64th running of the Great American Race, outdueling teammate Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowksi, who led a race-high 67 laps at Daytona International Speedway in his RFK Racing debut after 11 seasons driving the No. 2 Ford Mustang that Cindric won with Sunday.

Bubba Wallace finished second by 0.036 seconds, followed by Chase Briscoe, Blaney (who was involved in a multicar wreck coming to the checkered flag) and Aric Almirola.

Cindric’s victory came on the 85th birthday of Roger Penske, who won the Daytona 500 for the third time as a team owner.

RESULTS: Where everyone finished in the Daytona 500

WHAT DRIVERS SAID: Notable quotes about the race

“What makes it all better is a packed house at the Daytona 500,” Cindric told Fox Sports reporter Jamie Little. “I’ve got so many people to thank. First of foremost, Roger Penske. Happy birthday! Oh my gosh. I appreciate Ryan being a great teammate, I know he wants to win this one.”

Cindric took the lead on a Lap 195 restart from Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and he survived a two-lap overtime shootout by taking the outside lane on the green flag. With Keselowski lined up behind him, Cindric got pushed to the front and tucked in ahead of Blaney, who was being pushed by Wallace on the inside.

The 2020 Xfinity Series champion expertly managed the lead from there, barely nipping Wallace by about 6 feet after throwing a final block that squeezed Blaney into the wall off Turn 4.

Cindric, 23, became the second-youngest Daytona 500 winner and the ninth driver to score his first Cup victory in NASCAR’s biggest race — and the second consecutive after 2021 winner Michael McDowell. The others are Tiny Lund (1963), Mario Andretti (1967), Pete Hamilton (1970), Derrike Cope (1990), Sterling Marlin (1994), Michael Waltrip (2001) and Trevor Bayne (who became the youngest winner at 20 in 2011).

It was the eighth Cup start for Cindric, who nearly won consecutive Xfinity Series championships before a last-lap bump by Daniel Hemric last November at Phoenix Raceway.

“Damn, I am so excited, this makes up for losing the championship in the last race I did,” said Cindric, who is the son of longtime Team Penske president Tim Cindric and began racing in NASCAR full time only in 2018 after once seemingly headed toward a sports car career (he was the lone Cup driver in this year’s Rolex 24). “I’m surrounded by great people. I know there’s going to be highs and lows being a rookie in a field of drivers this strong.

“I’m just grateful for the opportunity. Excited for the mountain we’ve got ahead of us on the 2 team, but we’re in the playoffs. That’s one good box checked. What an awesome group of fans, an awesome race car. Just really thankful.”

After a rocky, crash-filled start in NASCAR four years ago drew potshots from some drivers, Cindric’s victory Sunday drew plaudits from many NASCAR stars and peers on social media.

Penske said CIndric was “at the top of his game. I think his record speaks for itself. He really had almost two Xfinity (titles) and then to come here and have this type of victory was amazing.

“I think he’s a star coming up. I think he’s a great team player. From the perspective of our sponsors, I think he’ll represent us as a team the way we need to be so we can continue to fund his car. Look, that’s part of it. You follow me? You’ve got to be a driver, you’ve got to understand the car technically, you’ve got to be a team player, and you also have to work with your sponsors. And I think all of those buttons he touches very well.”

Wallace matched his career-best Daytona 500 finish with his second runner-up finish in the season opener on the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

“First of all, that’s pretty damn cool to win the 500, so congrats to Austin,” Wallace told Fox Sports’ Regan Smith. “What could have been, right? Man, need to talk about some happy stuff here. Just dejected, but the thing that keeps me up is just the hard work that we put into our speedway stuff and the hard work from everybody at 23IX (Racing), proud of them, can’t thank them enough.

“I knew this was a big move last year for me to go out and be competitive, and we’re showing that. It’s always the first race of the season and you’re getting through everything, but when you come out of the gates like that, it’s empowering, it’s encouraging. .. We’ll come home second. I’m going to be pissed off about this one for a while. I was happy on the first second place we got (in 2018). This one sucks when you’re that close, but all-in-all, happy for our team, happy for our partners, and on to California.”

There were two multicar wrecks in the final 10 laps that sent the race into overtime and significantly whittled the field of contenders.

Stenhouse, who led 16 laps, crashed with five laps remaining after losing the lead on a restart and then losing control after a bump from Keselowski.

The race had been red-flagged with 10 laps remaining for a multicar crash that took out contenders Chris Buescher, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson.

Martin Truex Jr. swept the stage victories, but his bid to win his first Daytona 500 in his 18th start ended with 48 laps remaining. Truex suffered right-front damage to his No. 19 Toyota after being collected in a multicar crash that started with Tyler Reddick spinning off Turn 4 and also collecting Jacques Villeneuve and Kurt Busch.

An eight-car crash with two laps remaining in Stage 1 eliminated several contenders after Brad Keselowski tried to push Harrison Burton toward the lead off Turn 2. Burton lost control after taking a shot to the right rear, and his No. 21 Ford slid down the banking and then went airborne after contact while turning sideways. After hitting on its roof, the car landed back on its wheels, but Burton was out of the race.

“We had a real fast Ford Mustang and ended up on our lid,” said the rookie, who led three laps and became the second driver in two days to escape injury during an airborne crash at Daytona. “Just a frustrating weekend. We worked really hard all week to lead up to that. It’s hard to see. It’s hard for me to tell what happened.

“Just felt like I got a push in a bad spot in the bumper and got shot to the inside before I could save it. Frustrating deal, wanted to get stage points, tried to be smart about it and just got turned around there.”

The wreck also took out Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell, William Byron and Denny Hamlin, who suffered his first DNF in 17 starts at the Daytona 500.

“(Burton) was getting out of control, and (Keselowski) was insistent on pushing him at all costs, and it eventually turned him around,” Hamlin said. “Tough considering it was only for the stage. Too aggressive pushing right there when they weren’t lined up and in control.”

Keselowski addressed the accidents with Burton and Stenhouse after the race.

“I was just pushing (Burton), and it just turned sideways and spun immediately out,” Keselowski said. “I don’t know what happened there. It was a shame to see it.  I hate it for him.  I was trying to help him win the stage and certainly didn’t want to see him spin out.

“The same thing (in the Stenhouse wreck). I was just pushing. We weren’t even all the way up to speed, so I feel like it was a crazy time to be pushing, but obviously the results say different. Whenever somebody spins out obviously there’s somebody overaggressive, but in the moment I didn’t (feel too aggressive).”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Martin Truex Jr.STAGE 2 WINNER: Martin Truex Jr.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Aric Almirola finished fifth in the first start of his final season in Cup. … With a seventh, Michael McDowell has four top 10s in his past five Daytona 500s. … David Ragan finished eighth in his first Cup start since the 2021 Daytona 500.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Alex Bowman also finished multiple laps down after getting caught in the Burton crash. … It was an inauspicious debut for the single-lugnut wheel as multiple drivers had problems with the new Next Gen feature. Kaz Grala (in the first race for Floyd Mayweather’s new team) caused the first yellow on Lap 42 when his right rear tire came loose. Another yellow flew 11 laps later for Justin Haley, who lost the right front while making the first start in Kaulig Racing’s new No. 31. Goodyear officials said both wheels were left loose. … Greg Biffle’s first start in the Cup Series since 2016 went south quickly, completing only 26 laps before heading behind the wall with NY Racing.

NEXT: Auto Club Speedway – Sunday, Feb. 27, 3:30 p.m. ET, Fox