Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric has ‘zero regrets’ about final lap

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A day after Austin Cindric made a big block on Ryan Blaney to win the Daytona 500, Cindric said he has “absolutely zero regrets” about how he raced his Team Penske teammate.

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.”

NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500
Austin Cindric celebrates his Daytona 500 win on the frontstretch at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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.”

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Car owner Roger Penske defended his team’s modification of wheels after Sunday’s Daytona 500.

NASCAR confiscated wheels from Team Penske and RFK Racing on Friday.

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.

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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. 

Bubba Wallace
Bubba Wallace after his second-place finish in Sunday’s Daytona 500. (Photo: Dustin Long)

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.

Jesse Iwuji Motorsports seeks $4.125 million in lawsuit against sponsor

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Jesse Iwuji Motorsports, a NASCAR Xfinity Series team, has filed a $4.125-million lawsuit against Equity Prime Mortgage, one of the team’s sponsors.

In the lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the team alleges that EPM committed a breach of contract. JIM alleges that EPM agreed to pay the team $2.25 million for sponsorship in the 2022 season and $3.75 million for 2023.

The lawsuit attempts to recoup what Jesse Iwuji Motorsports calls two missed payments totaling $375,000 from 2022 and the $3.75 million for 2023. The filing of the lawsuit was first reported by TobyChristie.com.

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The team scored one top-10 finish in 30 Xfinity starts in 2022. The team’s cars were driven by Kyle Weatherman and Iwuji. Weatherman had a best finish of eighth; Iwuji’s best run was an 11th.

The team was founded by Iwuji, former National Football League player Emmitt Smith and a group of investors.

The lawsuit claims that an EPM executive informed the team in September 2022 that EPM had been “margin called” and was dealing with problems because of rising mortgage rates and that EPM could not make any more payments to Jesse Iwuji Motorsports .

According to the lawsuit, Jesse Iwuji Motorsports sent EPM a Notice of Intent to terminate the sponsorship agreement after the payment due Oct. 1 was missed. The suit claims EPM “took no action” after EPM offered 30 days to remedy the situation.

The suit also claims EPM “allegedly continued to take advantage of their status as a sponsor of the NASCAR Xfinity Series team, as EPM continued to make promotional posts on social media, which featured the company’s logo on the JIM race car.”

EPM is based in Atlanta.

Dr Diandra: The best driver of 2022

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NASCAR’s elimination playoff format means that the driver with the best statistics — arguably the “best driver of 2022” — doesn’t always win the championship.

Races unfinished

Drivers involved in a lot of crashes also failed to finish a lot of races. But not all accidents end drivers’ races. Comparing accidents and spins to DNF (did not finish) totals helps gauge how serious those incidents were.

Ross Chastain and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were involved in the most accidents for a single driver with 15 caution-causing crashes each. The difference is that Chastain had only five DNFs (33.3%), while Stenhouse had nine (60.0%).

Ty Dillion tied Stenhouse for the most DNFs in the series with nine DNFs and 10 accidents.

Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Corey LaJoie tied for third place with eight DNFs each. Reddick had 10 accidents, while Dillon and LaJoie were each involved in 11 crashes.

No driver avoided DNFs entirely. Among full-timers, Michael McDowell had the fewest DNFs in 2022 with two. Justin Haley and Ryan Blaney tied for second with three DNFs each.

In 2021, only Denny Hamlin finished every race running. This year he had five DNFs, with four in the first nine races.

This year’s 225 DNFs are up significantly from 179 in 2021. and the most DNFs since 2017. I’ll be watching in 2023 to see if the rise in DNFs continues, or if this was a one-time phenomenon due to the first year with a new car.

Wins

“Best driver” doesn’t necessarily mean most wins.

This year’s champion, Joey Logano, didn’t have the most wins. That’s not at all uncommon in NASCAR. With 19 different winners in 2022, no driver dominated the season the way Kyle Larson did in 2021 with 10 wins.

The winningest drivers in 2022 were: Chase Elliott (five wins) and Logano (four wins). Christopher Bell, Larson and Reddick tied for third with three wins each.

Top-five and top-10 finishes

While wins matter more than good finishes, the number of top-five and top-10 finishes show how close a driver got to taking home the checkered flag. Running up front means being there to take advantage of other drivers’ mistakes and misfortune.

In 2021, Larson had the most top-five finishes (20) and the most top-10 finishes (26). This year, good finishes were much more spread out.2022's best drivers in terms of top-five and top-ten finishes

Chastain deserves a special shoutout for having 13 more top-10 finishes than he earned in 2021.

Also deserving of a shoutout, but for different reasons: Hamlin had the same number of wins this year as last, but nine fewer top-five finishes. William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. also had nine fewer finishes in the top five.

Logging laps

While Truex didn’t make the championship race, he did tie Elliott for the most lead-lap finishes in the season with 29, or 80.6% of starts. Blaney, Byron and Kevin Harvick each had 28 lead-lap finishes.

Elliott led the most laps in 2022 with 857. He’s followed by Logano (784), Byron (746), Chastain (692) and Blaney (636).

I remain slightly wary of metrics that purport to measure quickness because so much of a car’s speed depends on where in the field it’s running. Lap traffic, or even being far back in the field, can slow fast cars. That’s especially true at short tracks.

For completeness, however, the next two tables show the drivers’ numbers of fastest laps and those with the best rank in green-flag speed according to NASCAR’s loop data.

Two tables showing the drivers with the most fastest laps and the highest rank in green-flag speedChampion Logano ranked 11th in fastest laps with 319, and eighth in overall green-flag speed with an average ranking of 9.281.

Best Finishes

The tables below show drivers’ rankings throughout the season for average finishes and average running position.

Two tables comparing 2022's best drivers in terms of average finish and average running position

Elliott ranks first in both average finish and running position. Chastain takes second for best average finish and fourth for best average running position, while Blaney is second for running position and fourth for finishing position.

Logano finished 2022 third in both metrics.

Passing

NASCAR defines a quality pass as a pass for position inside the top 15. Interpreting the meaning of the number of passes is a little tricky. A driver who runs up front a lot doesn’t make many quality passes because he doesn’t need to.

I focus instead on the percentage of quality passes: the fraction of all green-flag passes that qualify as quality passes. A higher percentage means that the driver is efficient: The passes mean something.

Elliott scores first in percentage of quality passes with 63.4%, just edging out Bell, who has 63.3% quality passes. Larson is third with 61.2%.

Who was the best driver in 2022?

I combined the metrics I think matter most for determining the best driver in the table below. I color-coded drivers who appear in the top five in more than one metric to make it easier to see patterns.

A table showing the top five in each of the metrics discussed in the hopes of identifying 2022's best driver.

This table confirms that the NASCAR playoffs format did a good job identifying the top four drivers in the series. Elliott, Logano, Chastain and Bell are well-represented in the top five in each metric.

The table also shows that Larson and Blaney contended strongly in 2022. With a slightly different distribution of luck, one (or both) might have found their way to the Championship Four.

Logano’s consistency is also evident, even though he doesn’t rank first in any of these metrics and fails to make the table in top-five finishes or quality passes. It’s not uncommon for the driver with the most wins not to win the championship. And this year has been anything but common.

But overall, it’s hard not to argue that Elliott had the statistically best year. He led the series in wins, laps led, average finish, average running position and percent quality passes. If his playoffs had been comparable to his regular season, he would have taken the trophy.

But they weren’t and he didn’t. That may have ended the 2022 season on a down note for the No. 9 team, but they can look forward to 2023 knowing they have a strong base on which to build.

While skill is reproducible, luck isn’t.

Kaz Grala, Connor Mosack join Sam Hunt Racing for 2023

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Kaz Grala is scheduled to run the full NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule for Sam Hunt Racing in 2023.

Connor Mosack will drive a second Hunt car — No. 24 — in 20 races for the team. Grala will drive the No. 26 Toyota.

The new season will mark Grala’s first as a full-time Xfinity driver.

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“I’ve scratched and clawed for each opportunity over the past several seasons, and while it hasn’t been easy, it’s made me appreciate this sport and its difficulty more than I ever could if things had been easy,” Grala said in a statement released by the team. “I feel like everything has finally come together at the perfect time in my life with the right team around me to start that next chapter in my career.”

Grala, 23, has scored five top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 44 Xfinity starts. He has raced in all three NASCAR national series and won a Truck Series race at Daytona International Speedway in 2017.

Allen Hart will be Grala’s crew chief.

Mosack, who will begin his schedule at Phoenix Raceway March 11, was the CARS Tour rookie of the year in 2020. He drove in two Xfinity and two Truck races in 2022.

Kris Bowen will be Mosack’s crew chief. The team said it will announce other drivers for the 24 car later.

 

Ryan Truex to drive six races for JGR Xfinity team in 2023

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Ryan Truex is scheduled to run six Xfinity Series races in the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2023.

Truex ran five races for JGR in 2022, finishing in the top five three times. He ran third at Atlanta.

Truex also drove limited Xfinity schedules for JGR in 2011 and 2012.

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“We are looking forward to having Ryan back in our lineup in 2023 to run the No. 19,” said JGR vice president Steve DeSouza in a statement released by the team. “He has done well in the races he has run at JGR. His previous experience and driving ability will be assets as the No. 19 competes for an owner’s championship next year.”

JGR has not announced which races Truex will run or which drivers will be his teammates in the 19.

“I am thrilled to be behind the wheel of the No. 19 for a few races next season,” Truex said in a team statement. “It was fun to run well with this team this past year. I appreciate the opportunity to race for JGR again next year.”

Jason Ratcliff will be the team’s crew chief.

Truex, 30, has run 26 Cup, 84 Xfinity and 73 Camping World Truck Series races without a win.