Despite Daytona 500 crash, Austin Cindric still pleased with weekend

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Chris Estrada
·4 min read
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As the final lap of the Daytona 500 unfolded shortly after midnight on Monday, reigning Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric was trying to make up ground after a miscommunication on his last pit stop.

Despite that, a top 10 finish in his Cup debut was still in sight. But in his mind, trouble was coming.

“I was pushing those guys pretty hard to try to catch up,” he recalled Tuesday in a media teleconference. “At the same time, If I am being 100 percent honest, once I knew I wasn’t going to be top-five anymore, I pretty much considered myself crashed.

“It just hadn’t happened yet.”

Sure enough, it did.

Cindric was collected in the last-lap crash that ended the race under caution. He was credited with a 15th-place finish.

As Michael McDowell pushed Brad Keselowski entering Turn 3, Keselowski and leader Joey Logano made contact. McDowell avoided the ensuing wreck and was declared the winner when NASCAR deemed he was leading when the yellow came out.

Cindric said he was running in tandem with Cole Custer, then moved from behind him entering Turn 3 only to find the chaos.

With nowhere to go, he slammed into Keselowski and flames exploded along the SAFER Barrier.

He later re-tweeted a picture of the brief but harrowing inferno, his No. 33 Team Penske Ford engulfed, with the message: “Update: Fire is hot.”

“I wasn’t trying to be a smart aleck (with the tweet), but it is amazing,” he said. “Holy cow. The amount of heat that comes off that. We are lucky he only had two laps of fuel left.”

Fortunately, he and everyone else involved in the wreck came out uninjured. And despite his race ending in a blaze of, well, not glory, Cindric felt good about the weekend as a whole.

He should. In his Duel qualifying race on Thursday, Cindric fell a lap down after a mid-race speeding penalty but was still able to make the Daytona 500.

On Saturday, he won the Xfinity season opener in overtime.

Then, on Sunday, he ran among the front-runners for much of the 500, and even got to lead his first laps at NASCAR’s top level.

Being that this was his first weekend driving in both Xfinity and Cup, the 22-year-old admitted that “managing (his) priorities was very challenging.” But it was worth it.

“A lot of late nights, and I definitely sacrificed some sleep for prep work and making sure I was prepared for the days ahead – I am glad that I did that,” he said.

Cindric will see more Cup starts this season as he prepares for a full-time move in 2022 with the Penske-aligned Wood Brothers. Where those starts will be remain to be determined.

For now, it’s back to full focus on the Xfinity side, where the 3.61-mile Daytona road course is next up on Saturday afternoon. Cindric won the inaugural race on that layout last August.

The pomp of the season-opening weekend is over. Now, it’s about building toward the season-ending weekend in November at Phoenix Raceway, where Cindric hopes he’ll race for another championship.

“I wouldn’t go as far as saying that my mindset is ‘title defense,'” he said. “It is making it to the (Championship 4). That may sound correct or incorrect, but with the way the format is, you have to make it to Phoenix and then have your best day. That was my mindset last year and is my mindset this year.

“As far as going to the Daytona road course – one of my extracurricular goals for the year was to win on a superspeedway. To get that knocked out early was really satisfying. It is a different discipline. To be able to control the race, how we did and the speed in our car, I was really proud of that effort. We haven’t had that kind of speed at speedways in the past.

“It shows the effort my guys have put in during the off-season. We keep stepping up both individually and as a group. Nothing is guaranteed though, so it is back to work.”

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Despite Daytona 500 crash, Austin Cindric still pleased with weekend originally appeared on NBCSports.com