By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The first race back from Easter didn’t stop Austin Cindric from racking up another top-five on his NASCAR Xfinity Series resume. Not even wearing a lion’s wig during driver introductions kept him from prowling the competition.
Fresh off a runner-up finish at Richmond Raceway, Cindric came to Talladega Superspeedway with the purpose of winning. It wasn’t meant to be and had to settle for fifth during Saturday’s MoneyLion 300. The race title happened to be Cindric’s primary sponsor for his No. 12 Ford Mustang.
“To come away with a top-five is a good day in the MoneyLion 300,” said Cindric. “I wish I would have been able to win it for those guys. They have a lot of people here supporting me and rooting for Joey (Logano) tomorrow in the Cup race.”
Despite Cindric scoring his fourth top-five finish of the season, it wasn’t without controversy.
Running in fifth with 19 laps to go, a bit of drafting gone wrong struck when Cindric was drafting Michael Annett until contact sent the Daytona winner into the left side of his teammate Justin Allagier, putting Richmond winner Cole Custer into the wall and chaos ensued on the backstretch as they and two more (Stephen Leicht and Ryan Sieg) were involved in the crash.
Cindric soldiered on with his afternoon, but it marked the end for both Annett and Custer.
“It was just a bump-draft gone wrong I guess,” Cindric on the contact with Annett. “I was trying to push the 1 and got him a little sideways and sent him to the outside wall. Obviously not my intention but it is part of this racing. You can’t redo it or undo it. It wasn’t on purpose.”
Custer said he was unsure what happened but was frustrated on being taken out while running at the front of the field.
“I don’t even know. I was running on the top and the No. 1 (Annett) got turned into me and we were just riding there. It sucks,” said Custer. “We had a good run going. We were running third and you put yourself in a good spot at the end of a race and you still get wrecked. That is Talladega. It was a fun race. We were racing hard, it just sucks that we are coming back on the trailer.”
On the final restart, Cindric gave a huge push on race leader Tyler Reddick, giving him the strong momentum to pull off the amazing comeback and score his first win of the season. Meanwhile, the 20-year-old had to hang on and defend his track position, but to no avail as the top lane became the preference.
This meant Cindric, who was running on the bottom, was out of the shuffle for almost an entire lap until a strong run by Chase Briscoe and subsequent block by Reddick brought new life for the bottom groove. Cindric stayed there and got the side-draft from Josh Williams heading into Turn 3, giving him a nice run.
While his bid of capturing that elusive Xfinity Series win was fading away, he had a battle of his own with John Hunter Nemechek coming into the tri-oval, and relied on drafting Briscoe, who had now gone to the bottom, and successfully held off Nemechek for his 11th career top-five finish.
“Congrats to Tyler and those guys on winning the Dash 4 Cash. I am glad I was able to do my part and give him the push on the restart,” said Cindric.
“The bottom lane fizzled out pretty hard there and I was side drafting for the life of me to try to do damage control at that point.”
Cindric’s second straight top-five finish improved him from fourth to third in the Xfinity Series standings, 74 points behind Reddick as he’ll hope to continue his mini-streak at Dover International Speedway Saturday May 4.