For the second year in a row, Team Penske teammates dueled to win the Daytona 500.
Last year, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski wrecked as they battled for the win on the last lap, allowing Michael McDowell to win. That led to car owner Roger Penske meeting with his drivers to discuss how they should race each other for the win.
Sunday, Blaney and Cindric raced each other for the win.
Asked if the discussions from last year impact how he raced Cindric, Blaney said: “I wanted to try to win the race for Roger Penske. Whether that was me or another car, that’s what I was doing, and I didn’t want to make a move too early because that throws a big chance out the window. That’s about it.”
Blaney went high coming down the frontstretch. Cindric moved from the bottom up the track. They made slight contact and Blaney hit the wall.
Cindric then dived back down the track to block Bubba Wallace’s move before the finish line.
“The last lap, I got good pushes on the bottom from (Wallace) and then I was able to get Austin in front,” Blaney said. “Off of (Turn) 4, where we were good enough to make a move, I got blocked and I ended up getting fenced.”
Asked if the block was fair or foul, Blaney said: “I don’t know. Congrats to him, I guess. You’ve got to throw a block in that situation.”
Said Cindric on Monday morning about how he raced Blaney: “I have absolutely zero regrets. I think that everybody behind me put themselves in position to win the race, and I think I did the same and, obviously, it worked out quite well.
“I’m just really proud of the effort, proud of the teamwork there, proud of the teamwork with Fords throughout the race, so I’ve got zero complaints and zero regrets.”
Tim Cindric, president of Team Penske and Austin’s father, spoke with Blaney after the race.
“If there’s a guy that deserves to win the Daytona 500, it’s Ryan Blaney,” Tim Cindric said Monday. “The frustration of finishing second and so forth, I think you see that with Bubba Wallace and those that haven’t been able to do it yet.
“Without a doubt, I talked to (Blaney) after the race as far as congratulations and he wanted it. He wanted to win the race. Every driver does. From my standpoint, you wish there could be two guys that win the race because they both deserved to win.”
Car owner Roger Penske defended his team’s modification of wheels after Sunday’s Daytona 500.
With vendors supplying parts and pieces instead of teams building their own, NASCAR has made it known that teams are not to alter such items.
NASCAR announced in January that it had toughened its penalty structure, which included nullifying a team’s playoff eligibility.
Penske cited safety concerns as the reason the team altered the wheels. Even so, some suggest the changers could make it easier for a tire changer to put the wheel on or take it off, providing a potential competitive advantage.
Penske said the team reached out to NASCAR on the matter.
“I think that we had contacted NASCAR a week before and said that the wheels we were getting were not all the same, and we felt we needed to modify the holes where the drive pins go,” Penske said. “We didn’t really get any feedback, and at that point we went ahead and opened the holes up.
“In fact, when you look at it, they’re much … smaller … than we had either on IndyCar or in sports car. I just think there was so much going on and trying to get the communication back and forth —we certainly talked about it with them. This wasn’t something we did under the covers trying to beat anybody. It was right there.”
Jeremy Bullins, crew chief for Austin Cindric, said that the team had a set of wheels for the Daytona 500 that the pin holes did not measure to what they were comfortable using. Bullins said the team did not use that set “because we were afraid they might not go on.”
The garage is watching how NASCAR reacts to this situation.
Bubba Wallace has long admired Formula One superstar Lewis Hamilton, but it was something that Hamilton did after the controversial F1 season finale at Abu Dhabi — which cost him an eighth championship and led to the FIA removing Michael Masi as its F1 race director — that struck Wallace.
“I still carry the pain for him and the frustration for him from the season finale,” Wallace told NBC Sports in January. “Crazy way to end.
“The thing that you can take a page out of his book from is how he handled it after the race. … He got out and gave his praise and was thankful for the opportunity and moved on. That was it. It was just like, ‘I want to be mad, but I can’t.’ Just something to learn.”
After coming close to winning Sunday’s Daytona 500, Wallace dealt with his own frustrations.
His emotions were much different than when he finished second in this race as a rookie in 2018. He and his family celebrated the accomplishment.
Sunday, Wallace finished 36-thousandths of a second behind winner Austin Cindric — a matter of a few feet after a 502.5-mile race (extended a lap by overtime).
After stopping his car on pit road, Wallace climbed onto the door and hung his head. When he saw a replay of the finish and how close it was, he winched. An opportunity lost.
There’s no guarantee he’ll be as close again to winning this race. Just as there’s no guarantee Kyle Busch, a two-time Cup champ who still seeks his first Daytona 500 victory, will win this race.
Wallace doesn’t hide his emotions and his frustration was evident. He showed that emotion but addressed repeated questions from the media without pouting, no matter how much anguish he felt.
Just as Hamilton did at Abu Dhabi.