By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Austin Cindric once asked Mario Andretti if he had any advice for the Team Penske rookie and the legendary driver had just six words for him.
“Whatever you do, stand on it.”
If Cindric’s performance in the 2022 running of the Daytona 500 is any indication, the newest driver to climb behind the wheel of the No. 2 Ford took those words to heart, streaking across the finish line first Sunday night to claim not only his first NASCAR Cup Series win, but also the biggest race in all of stock car racing.
Fresh off a near-miss in last year’s Xfinity Series championship and a fiery crash in the 2021 Daytona 500, Cindric came into the day ready for redemption.
Despite a misstep with Chase Briscoe on lap 42, Cindric was able to keep his nose clean for the majority of the race, ascending to the lead for the first time on lap 157. After trading the top spot with Bubba Wallace back and forth for the next 20 laps, Cindric found himself dropped from the lead with the finish drawing nearer.
A crash inside of five laps to go would push the race into overtime, giving Cindric the chance he needed to make it happen.
With a push from teammate Ryan Blaney, the two Team Penske drivers were content on settling the Great American Race between themselves, but which one of them would blink first?
Coming off Turn 4 for the final time, Cindric remained in the lead, while Blaney attempted a swift move around the high side to beat him back to the line. Before Blaney could move alongside, Cindric moved up to block, arresting Blaney’s momentum, but giving third-place driver Bubba Wallace the low lane to try and out-run him to the finish.
However, Cindric was able to cross the finish line first to score the win on NASCAR’s biggest stage, a half a car-length ahead of Wallace. Redemption achieved.
“Oh, my God. Do you know what makes it all better? A packed house. A packed house at the Daytona 500,” Cindric exclaimed.
“I’ve got so many people to thank. First and foremost, Roger Penske, happy birthday. Oh, my gosh. Appreciate Ryan being a great teammate. Obviously, he wants to win this one, but I’m so pumped for Discount Tire, Menards, Ford. Everybody works so hard with this Next-Gen car, through this whole process, and damn, I am so excited.
“This makes up for losing a championship last race I did.”
Afterwards, Cindric found himself with some extra time to soak in the fact that he was a Daytona 500 champion, thanks to his raucous celebration leaving his car stranded on the frontstretch next to the grandstands full of screaming fans.
“I broke the car,” Cindric said. “I broke the starter, and I blew out the right rear tire. Don’t think that’s anything bad. But yeah, I was kind of stranded, so definitely a good time to collect my thoughts and just appreciate the moment there for a minute to be able to do this in front of a sellout crowd, to be able to do this in general, to be able to be part of this race, having a shot.
“It’s a racer’s dream, and so many people get close to it, and I feel very grateful and very proud to be able to pull it off.”
When the car and driver finally arrived in Victory Lane, Cindric was able to celebrate in full with his team and even had some special guests able to join in the festivities. Earlier in the week, Cindric took a flight with the Air Force Thunderbirds, who also performed the pre-race flyover. After the flight, he had one request for the demonstration team, if he won the race, he wanted them in Victory Lane.
As they say, the rest is history.
“No better way to create a bond than going nine G’s together in an F-16 and then win the Daytona 500 a couple days later, Cindric said. “Talk about badass. I can’t even begin to say how cool of an experience that was. As someone that’s grown up loving Star Wars their entire life, that’s probably the closest I’ll get to flying in an X-wing…
“Obviously really cool. I didn’t expect to see them in Victory Lane. I told them if I won that they needed to be in Victory Lane, and they did just as they were told. Really cool to see them and share that moment.”