By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Austin Cindric had the strongest car of the day during Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 250 at Kansas Speedway, winning both stages and appeared he was on his way of being the first driver since Sam Ard in 1983 to win four straight NASCAR Xfinity Series races.
That would change in the closing laps as an ever determined Harrison Burton was gaining a lot of ground on Cindric following the last set of scheduled green flag stops. Cindric, who led a race-high 131 laps, now had to play defense as the race came to down its final 15 regularly scheduled laps.
Five laps later, Burton forced the young Team Penske driver into a mistake as his right side quarter panel hit the backstretch wall, giving the lead to the 19-year-old rookie.
Cindric said after the race that the wall contact wasn’t hard, especially how the car bodies react to the impact.
“I looked at the right side of the car and it was just a bit of a scuff, so maybe it looked worse on TV, but racing for the win, you can’t put anything on the line,” said Cindric. “If I stay on his quarter panel long enough to make him lift, that changes the complexion of the race. Granted, there was a caution, but I felt racing him that hard was my shot knowing the risk and outweighing the reward and going for a win.”
Following the wall contact, the No. 22 XPEL Ford Mustang crew advised Cindric to think about big picture as far as the regular season championship was concerned, thus he had to stay put in second and hope nothing bad happens to his car.
Cindric got another shot for the race when after Joe Graf, Jr. brought out the caution on Lap 165 after hitting the outside wall, forcing the race into overtime.
Leaders took the time to make one last stop with Cindric getting out well ahead of Burton. There was a catch, one driver went with an audible which was Ryan Sieg, thus Cindric had to restart in second and on the outside lane.
Sieg’s old tires backfired on the restart as Cindric and Ross Chastain ate his lunch right away and were about to pass him at the end of Turn 1, but the caution came out once again for Jesse Little.
When the caution came out, NASCAR officials had to go back to the last scoring loop to determine who was the leader. The outcome favored Sieg, who still held onto the race lead with Cindric being second and Chastain third.
Once cleanup was done, the second attempt of overtime commenced with Sieg having a much better restart. It wouldn’t take too long for Cindric to eat Sieg’s lunch once again with Cindric on the high line in Turn 3.
Cindric said worrying about Sieg shouldn’t have been that big of an issue due to the fact he was on old tires, but since he was on the bottom lane, the challenge was apparent and had to attack.
“With him being on old tires you expect him to spin them and I felt like you got better drive on the bottom lane all day, but it doesn’t matter when the car goes four car lengths before the box starts,” Cindric on Sieg. “He picked up probably 10 miles an hour from the pace car speed, which, fair enough, you’re on old tires — harder to spin them that way — but he went way too early and that’s unfortunate. I get it. He’s going to try and minimize damage.
Despite the strategy coming up short, Sieg still ended up finishing fourth. Cindric had mixed feelings about the ordeal. While happy that it worked out for Sieg, but he wasn’t crazy about the situation.
“It was the right call for those guys,” said Cindric. “But with guys trying to contend for a win I’m not a big fan of something that blatant, but who knows, I’m not perfect but that’s what I saw.”
The bid for a four-peat was still alive, but out of nowhere Brandon Jones’s rocket charged Toyota Supra snatched the top spot from Cindric in Turn 1. Not just snatching it, but wound up pulling away from Cindric to score his second straight Kansas victory, conquering Cindric’s win streak.
“If I maybe would have known he was coming from the bottom, I probably would have pulled down to slide myself into one and two and been able to fight for it in three and four,” Cindric on where he felt he lost the race to Jones.
“Overall, congrats to him. He earned it. He went from seventh to the lead in two laps. It’s like the third or fourth time we’ve lost on a green-white-checker after being the leader at the line. There are a thousand different things you can do right and wrong and you’ve got to trust your gut and trust the car is gonna stick. Overall, it just wasn’t in the cards for four in a row.”
While it wasn’t a victory, that big picture mentality before double overtime definitely paid off as Cindric will go into Road America (Saturday, August 8 at Noon EST on NBCSN) with a four-point lead over Chase Briscoe in the regular season championship.
This was due in large part of Briscoe ended up 14th after hitting the wall coming the white flag, but also Cindric racking up the stage wins which gave him a grand total of 55 points compared to the five-time series winner’s 27 Saturday.
Cindric is looking forward competing at the 4.048-mile circuit and the Daytona road course (Saturday, August 15 at Noon EST on NBCSN) due to the strong momentum he had this month. That in mind, he knows he has a couple of hungry contenders that’ll try to stop him.
“I’d definitely like to be able to go there and contend for a win. I think AJ (Allmendinger) is gonna be really strong and Chase (Briscoe) has done a great job on road course as well, so I expect to race him and a few other guys,” said Cindric. “That’s a fun track because tire wear is so massive, but not having practice it’s gonna be a fun day. I know the crowd there really loves what we bring to the table and it’s a fun place to go to.
“Daytona Road Course, definitely an interesting one to not have practice. I don’t expect it to take too long for people to get up to speed. There are like six corners and a lot of straightaways, so I’m not too concerned about that. It’s just putting myself in position — the same thing. I can look on the flip side and it replaces a racetrack that we won at last year, so, either way, we show up with the best package and go racing.”