Cindric prevails for first Cup triumph at the Daytona 500

In a late war of attrition between the young guns and the veterans, rookie Austin Cindric captured the main spotlight to commence a new season of NASCAR competition by winning the 64th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, February 20, and capturing his first NASCAR Cup Series career victory after fending off the field during an overtime attempt.

The 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion from Mooresville, North Carolina, led four times for 21 laps, including the final eight, to fend off challenges from teammate Ryan Blaney, ex-teammate Brad Keselowski and Bubba Wallace on the final lap to grab his first win in his eighth career start in NASCAR’s premier series and in his first event driving the No. 2 Ford Mustang for Team Penske as a full-time Cup Series rookie candidate.

The starting lineup was determined through two single-car qualifying rounds on Wednesday, February 16, followed by the Bluegreen Vacations Duels on Thursday, February 17. Kyle Larson, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion, started on pole position after posting a pole-winning lap at 181.159 mph and was joined on the front row with teammate Alex Bowman, who qualified at 181.046 mph. Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher, both of whom represent the newly named Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, occupied the second row after each won their respective Duel events.

Prior to the event, George Spencer, the engineer for Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang team, and JD Frey, the car chief for Daniel Hemric and the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team, were ejected from the event due to their respective cars failing pre-race inspection twice. In addition, Hemric was assessed a drive-through penalty at the start. Joey Logano also dropped to the rear of the field in a backup car along with Jacques Villeneuve, who dropped to the rear due to an engine change.

When the green flag waved and the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season commenced, Larson jumped with an early advantage and moved in front of teammate Bowman from the tri-oval through the back straightaway while running on the inside lane. The outside lane, however, proved to be the fastest, preferred lane for a majority of competitors as Keselowski received drafting help from Ford teammates Austin Cindric, Chris Buescher and Michael McDowell to move into the lead entering Turns 3 and 4.

When the field returned to the start/finish line, Brad Keselowski, making his first start as a driver/co-owner of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing Ford Mustang, led the first lap ahead of Cindric and Buescher while Larson settled in fourth ahead of Michael McDowell, the reigning Daytona 500 champion. By then, Hemric served his drive-through penalty through pit road.

By the fifth lap, a majority of the competitors were running in a long single-file line on the outside lane as Keselowski was leading Cindric, Buescher, McDowell and Kyle Busch. Christopher Bell, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Bubba Wallace and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were in the top 10 while rookie Harrison Burton was the lead car on the inside lane in 14th place while receiving drafting help from names like Chase Elliott, Daniel Suarez, Aric Almirola and Denny Hamlin.

Two laps later, the momentum for the competitors running on the inside lane gained momentum towards the ones running on the outside lane as Kyle Busch, who darted to the inside lane, moved his No. 18 M&M’s Toyota TRD Camry to the front of the pack followed by teammate Bell. Soon after, Busch was engaged in a side-by-side battle with Keselowski’s No. 6 Kohler Generators Ford Mustang for the top spot.

Through the first 10 laps of the event and with the field continuing to engage in close-quarters racing through multiple lanes, Keselowski, who fought back on the outside lane to retake the lead on Lap 8, was leading followed by Cindric, Buescher, McDowell and Stenhouse while Kyle Busch fell back to sixth ahead of Erik Jones, Bell, Larson and Truex. By then, Hemric was lapped behind the field.

Five laps later, Jacques Villeneuve was lapped by the field as Keselowski continued to lead a bevy of competitors running towards the outside lane while Kyle Busch was the lead car for multiple competitors running on the inside lane.

By Lap 20, Keselowski remained out in front on the outside lane ahead of Cindric, Buescher, McDowell, Stenhouse and a majority of the competitors while Kyle Busch continued to serve as the lead car on the inside lane with drafting help from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Bell and Truex along with 23XI Racing’s Kurt Busch and Bubba Wallace.

Seven laps later, the battle for the lead reignited between Keselowski and Kyle Busch as Busch received drafting help from his Toyota teammates on the inside lane to return to the lead. 

Through the first 30 laps of the event, Kyle Busch remained as the leader of the field by a narrow margin over teammate Keselowski while Bell, Cindric, Truex, Buescher, Kurt Busch, McDowell, Wallace and Denny Hamlin were in the top 10. By then, Greg Biffle, making his return to the Cup Series following a five-year absence, took his No. 44 NY Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to the garage due to an engine issue. 

By Lap 35, a majority of the field moved to the inside lane as Kyle Busch continued to lead ahead of Bell, Truex, Kurt Busch, Wallace, Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Keselowski and William Byron.

A few laps later, the first round of green-flag pit stops commenced as names like Cindric, Blaney, McDowell, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Cole Custer, David Ragan, Aric Almirola and Chase Briscoe pitted. During the following lap, a majority of competitors led by Kyle Busch pitted. Then during the following lap and with another wave of competitors pitting, Villeneuve spun near the pit road entrance, but he proceeded without making contact with the wall as the race continued to run under green. In the midst of the pit stops, Ty Dillon was penalized for speeding on pit road.

Then on Lap 40, the first caution of the event flew when Kaz Grala lost a right-rear wheel of his No. 50 Money Team Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in Turn 2. At the same time, Briscoe got bumped by Cindric entering Turn 1 and spun his No. 14 Mahindra Ford Mustang, though he continued without sustaining any significant damage. Under caution, some like Larson and Bowman pitted.

When the race restarted under green on Lap 45, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano occupied the front row ahead of Hamlin and Harrison Burton. At the start, Busch jumped ahead through Turns 1 and 2, but Logano used the outside lane to his advantage as he received a push from Burton’s No. 21 Motorcraft/DEX Imaging Ford Mustang to challenge Busch for the lead.

Through the first 50 laps of the event, Kyle Busch was leading ahead of teammates Hamlin and Bell while Byron and Kurt Busch were in the top five. By then, Elliott, rookie Todd Gilliland, McDowell, Logano and Ross Chastain were in the top 10. 

Shortly after, the caution returned when Justin Haley lost a right-front tire from his No. 31 LeafFilter Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in Turn 1. Under caution, some like Noah Gragson, Harvick, Custer, and Almirola pitted while the rest led by Kyle Busch remained on the track.

On Lap 56, the race proceeded under green as teammates Kyle Busch and Hamlin occupied the front row. At the start, Busch, who restarted on the outside lane, jumped with another strong advantage before moving in front of teammate Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Toyota TRD Camry to retain the lead. Behind, Byron challenged Logano for third place with drafting help from Harrison Burton. During the following lap, Byron moved his No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to the lead through the back straightaway as he also moved in front of Busch’s No. 18 Toyota. 

Then with the field engaged in close-quarters racing through double lanes, Harrison Burton received a push from Truex to challenge Byron for the lead.

By Lap 60, Burton was leading ahead of Keselowski before Truex mounted his No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota TRD Camry alongside Burton’s car in Turn 1 in a bid for the lead. 

Two laps later, however, the caution flew for a multi-car that started when Harrison Burton, who was challenging Truex for the lead, got bumped and turned off the front nose of Keselowski entering the back straightaway as he made contact with Byron, Kyle Busch, Hamlin and Bell. While Byron slid and pounded the inside wall head-on, Burton’s No. 21 Ford went airborne and landed upside down on the roof before flipping back on all four wheels and coming to rest with a destroyed race car. Also involved were Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman. Despite the incident, Burton emerged uninjured as his strong start to the race came to an early end along with Byron, Hamlin and Chastain.

The multi-car wreck concluded the first stage scheduled for Lap 65 under caution as Truex claimed the first stage victory of the season. Keselowski settled in second ahead of Todd Gilliland, Stenhouse, Logano, Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Larson and Elliott.

Under the stage break, some including Kurt Busch, who received minor damage from the multi-car wreck, pitted early. Not long after, the remainder of the field led by Truex pitted for service.

The second stage started on Lap 71 as Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney occupied the front row. At the start, Jones and Blaney dueled through the first two turns until Blaney received a push from teammate Cindric to clear Jones for the lead and retain the top spot when he returned to the start/finish line. 

By Lap 75 and with the field fanning out to double lanes, Blaney continued to lead ahead of teammate Cindric and Jones, both of whom battled dead even for the runner-up spot. Chris Buescher and Stenhouse were in the top five ahead of Kevin Harvick, Daniel Suarez, Keselowski, Larson and Gilliland.

Fifteen laps later on Lap 90, Blaney remained as the leader ahead of teammate Cindric, Buescher, Harvick and Keselowski as the field settled in a long single-file line towards the inside lane.

At the halfway mark on Lap 100, Blaney was leading ahead of teammates Cindric, Buescher, Harvick, Gilliland, Custer, McDowell, Ty Dillon and Briscoe as Ford competitors occupied nine of the top-10 spots. Almirola, Logano, Larson, Gragson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Tyler Reddick, Erik Jones, Truex, Wallace and Kyle Busch were running in the top 20 ahead of Kurt Busch, Daniel Suarez and Elliott, all of whom were running under three seconds behind the leader. Hemric, Corey LaJoie, Austin Dillon were in 24th, 25th and 26th followed by Landon Cassill, Codey Ware, David Ragan and Jacques Villeneuve, all of whom were on the lead lap.

Shortly after, names like Austin Dillon, Hemric, LaJoie, Cassill, David Ragan and Corey Ware pitted under green as Blaney continued to lead the field. During the pit stops, Cassill nearly clipped two of Cody Ware’s crew members while trying to exit his pit stall.

Then on Lap 107, a wave of competitors led by Blaney pitted, but Keselowski and Buescher managed to exit pit road ahead of Blaney. During the next lap, another wave led by Truex pitted. In the midst of the pit stops, Briscoe slid past his pit stall while Elliott stalled his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 on pit road. In addition, Suarez was busted for speeding on pit road and forced to serve a drive-through penalty through pit road.

By Lap 110, Keselowski returned to the lead followed by Buescher, Blaney and the field. A few laps later, Custer pitted for a second time due to not getting fuel in his car during his first stop.

Through Lap 120, Keselowski continued to lead ahead of Buescher, Blaney, Harvick and Gilliland while Larson, who was running within the top 10, formed a line on the outside lane in his bid for the lead followed by Stenhouse, Logano and Truex. 

Then five laps later, Larson motored his No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to the lead, but Keselowski fought back on the inside lane after receiving a push from ex-teammate Logano. As Larson drifted back into the top 10 while receiving no drafting help, Keselowski retained the lead ahead of Logano, Truex, Wallace and Cindric.

Then approaching the final lap of the second stage, Briscoe blocked Keselowski in an attempt to remain on the lead lap. Entering Turn 1, Keselowski moved to the inside lane in an attempt to pass Briscoe, but the rest of the field drafted with Briscoe as Logano moved his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang into the lead followed by Truex and Wallace. Then entering the tri-oval, Truex made his move beneath Logano and edged Logano to claim the second stage victory on Lap 130. Logano settled in second followed by Wallace, Keselowski, Stenhouse, Cindric, Buescher, Harvick, Larson and Gilliland.

Under the stage break, the field returned to pit road for service and Keselowski exited with the lead followed by Cindric, Larson, Wallace and Harvick. During the pit stops, McDowell was penalized for speeding on pit road. In addition, Logano made a second trip to pit road to have the lug nuts on his car tightened. 

With 63 laps remaining, the final stage started. At the start, Keselowski quickly moved in front of Cindric to retain the lead and gain momentum. Behind, Wallace was in third while Harvick gained a run on the outside lane. 

Soon after, Keselowski led a seven-car breakaway from the field followed by Cindric, Wallace, Erik Jones, Blaney, Buescher and Briscoe while Harvick fell back in a side-by-side battle with Gragson, who was piloting the No. 62 Beard Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in his Cup debut.

Down to the final 50 laps of the event and with the majority of the field running on the inside lane while the rest settled on the outside lane, Keselowski was leading ahead of Cindric, Wallace, Jones and Blaney. 

Just then, the caution flew when Tyler Reddick got bumped and turned off the front nose of Villeneuve entering the frontstretch and came across the path of Truex, Kurt Busch and Logano, with the former sustaining front-nose damage while the latter two spinning towards the tri-oval grass as Stenhouse also sustained damage. In the aftermath of the wreckage, Logano and Reddick needed assistance from wreckers to get their stuck cars out of the grass, which dropped them out of lead lap contention. 

Under caution, the field pitted for a potential final round of fresh tires, fuel and adjustments as Cindric exited with the top spot following a two-tire pit stop ahead of Wallace, Blaney and Jones,  all of whom took fuel only, while Keselowski exited in fifth place with two fresh tires.

With 41 laps remaining, the green flag waved. At the start, Cindric retained the lead ahead of teammate Blaney and Jones while Wallace got shoved out of the top five while making an attempt for the lead on the outside lane. 

During the following lap, Cindric was out in front of a four-car breakaway followed by Blaney, Jones and Keselowski while Briscoe, Wallace and the field closed in through Turns 3 and 4. 

Another three laps later, Kyle Busch shoved Bubba Wallace’s No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota TRD Camry to the lead on the outside lane as Cindric fought back on the inside lane with drafting help from Blaney’s No. 12 Menards Blue DEF Ford Mustang.

With 35 laps remaining and the field engaged in a duel and close-quarters racing, Wallace, who had Kyle Busch pushing him on the outside lane, battled Cindric, who had teammate Blaney pushing him on the inside lane, for the lead. By then, the top-15 competitors were separated by half a second.

Five laps later, Wallace and Cindric continued to duel dead even for the lead. Soon after, the inside lane gained a brief advantage as Cindric cleared Wallace to assume full command of the lead followed by Blaney, Erik Jones, Keselowski and Briscoe while Wallace was back in sixth alongside McDowell’s No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang.

Another five laps later, the outside lane regained their momentum as Kyle Busch shoved Wallace back to the lead ahead of Cindric. Soon after, Wallace and Kyle Busch cleared the field and moved in front of Cindric’s No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang. By then, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. started to formulate a run for the lead on the outside lane with drafting help from Chris Buescher’s No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang.

With 20 laps remaining, the battle for the lead and the win continued to intensify as Wallace and Stenhouse engaged in a heated duel for the top spot. While Stenhouse’s No. 47 Kroger Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 had drafting help from Buescher, Wallace continued to fight back on the inside lane with drafting support from Kyle Busch.

Two laps later, the outside lane prevailed as Stenhouse started to lead a multi-car breakaway followed by Buescher, Larson, Gilliland, Harvick and Erik Jones. The field soon settled in a long single-car line on the outside lane as Wallace was mired back in 11th.

Down to the final 10 laps of the event and with fuel in question for the front-runners, Stenhouse, who was told he had enough fuel to finish, continued to lead. Then just as the intensity started to crescendo with the competitors fanning out to double lanes, a multi-car wreck erupted just past the start/finish line when Harvick, who got caught up in an accordion effect with Buescher and Larson, slipped sideways off the front nose of Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet and clipped Gragson, who pounded the inside wall head-on in front of Larson, which destroyed his car. Also involved were Erik Jones, Elliott and rookie Todd Gilliland, who also impacted the inside wall head-on. The wreck was enough for NASCAR to pause the race for approximately five minutes before the field proceeded under caution.

When the race proceeded under green with six laps remaining, Stenhouse and Cindric engaged in a heated battle for the lead before Cindric started to pull away on the inside lane with drafting help from Blaney. As the field returned to the start/finish line, Stenhouse got turned off the front nose of Keselowski and bounced off of Wallace’s No. 23 Toyota before spinning and slapping the outside wall as Buescher got collected in the carnage. The wreck evaporated Stenhouse’s hopes of winning his first Daytona 500 as he was unable to continue.

The late incident involving Stenhouse was enough to send the event into overtime. At the start, Cindric jumped with an early advantage and immediately moved in front of teammate Blaney from the outside to the inside lane to retain the lead. Through the back straightaway, Keselowski received a push from Briscoe to try to close in on Cindric on the outside lane. 

When the white flag waved, Cindric was still leading by a narrow margin over teammate Blaney, Keselowski and the field. Through the first two turns and the back straightaway, Cindric continued to maintain his ground on the inside lane with teammate Blaney settling behind him while Keselowski continued to lurk but not close on the outside lane. 

Then entering Turns 3 and 4, Cindric started to pull away followed by Blaney and Wallace while Keselowski could not gain drafting help from Briscoe. Entering the frontstretch and the tri-oval, Briscoe then squeezed himself past Keselowski towards the outside wall as Blaney and Wallace mounted a final challenge on Cindric for the win. As Blaney made a move to the outside of Cindric, Cindric blocked Blaney while making slight contact with his Penske teammate. That opened the door for Wallace to pounce, but at the finish line, Cindric edged Wallace by 0.036 seconds to win as another multi-car wreck erupted behind, among which were involved included Blaney and Keselowski.

With the victory, Cindric, who won in NASCAR’s first points-paying event with the new Next Gen stock cars, became the 41st different competitor to win the Daytona 500 and the ninth to notch a first Cup career victory in the 500 as he delivered the 17th 500 triumph for the Ford nameplate, the first for crew chief Jeremy Bullins and the third for Team Penske and team owner Roger Penske, who turned 85 years old. In addition, Cindric became the 199th different competitor to win in NASCAR’s premier series and the 37th different competitor to achieve a victory across NASCAR’s top three national touring series (Camping World Truck, Xfinity and Cup).

Photo by Patrick Sue-Chan for

“Oh my god!” Cindric exclaimed on FOX. “You know what makes [winning] better. A packed house! A packed house at the Daytona 500! I’ve got so many people to thank, first and foremost. Roger Penske, happy birthday! Oh my gosh! [I] Appreciate Ryan [Blaney] being a great teammate. Obviously, he wants to win this one. I’m so pumped for Discount Tire, Menards, Ford, everyone who works so hard with this Next Gen car through this whole process. I am so excited. This makes up for losing a [Xfinity] championship last race I did.”

“I’m surrounded by great people,” Cindric added. “That’s all there is to it. I know there’s gonna be highs and lows being a rookie in a field of drivers this strong. I’m just grateful for the opportunity. [I’m] Excited to climb the mountain we got ahead of us on this No. 2 team. We’re in the Playoffs! That’s one good box check, but oh my gosh! What an awesome group of fans. What an awesome race car. Just really thankful.” 

Behind Cindric was Wallace, who nursed his car with a damaged right-front fender to tie his best Daytona 500 result with a runner-up result while Briscoe made a late charge to finish third, which marks his first top-five result in the Cup circuit. Blaney fell back to fourth despite getting consumed in the final lap accident while Aric Almirola commenced his final full-time Cup season in fifth place.

“What could have been, right?” Wallace said. “Just dejected, but the thing that keeps me up is just the hard work that we put into our speedway stuff. The hard work from everybody at 23XI [Racing]. Proud of them. Can’t thank them enough. I knew this was a big move last year for me to go out and be competitive. We’re showing that. There’s always a first race into the season. You’re getting through everything, but when you come out of the gates like that, it’s empowering. It’s encouraging, so thanks to everybody back at the shop. McDonald’s almost got them another [win], back-to-back superspeedway wins. That would’ve been awesome, especially with them being in the 500. Just short…Great Speedweeks, though. We come home second. I’m gonna be pissed off about this for a while. I was happy on the first second-place we got a couple years ago. This one sucks when you’re that close, but all in all, I’m happy for our team. Happy for our partners and on to California.”

“I needed to be able to get to Brad [Keselowski to win],” Briscoe said. “He was having to drag so much brake for me to be able to help him that I wished I was more help. I felt like if I could’ve just locked on, I could’ve gotten him up there. To be sleeping on couches and volunteering at shops six or seven years ago, and now to have a chance to win the Daytona 500 at the end, to finish third and start the year off with these Mahindra Tractors folks and, all the people that get us to the race track. We wanna be a Playoff contender this year and having a good run here is a good start. [I] Wished we could’ve had one more lap. You never know what could happen, but yeah, super cool to finish third.”

“Coming to the restart there for the green-white-checkered, I really had those thoughts like, ‘Man, this is gonna be a storybook ending coming down here for my last full-time season with this team,” Almirola said. “Having Shane [Smith, President and CEO of Smithfield] and so many people from Smithfield here. I felt like I was in a great spot. It still hurts. It’s an awesome feeling. I’m gonna miss that, coming down the white flag lap, feeling like you have a shot to win the Daytona 500. That’s an incredible feeling. Just so proud of Ford for getting to Victory Lane…This is incredible to come here and almost feel like we had a shot at getting it done. Dang it. So close.”

Kyle Busch, McDowell, Ragan, Keselowski and Elliott finished in the top 10 as 15 competitors finished on the lead lap.

Truex settled in 13th behind Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez ended up in 18th ahead of Kurt Busch and Logano finished 21st ahead of Villeneueve. Stenhouse, Harvick and Larson were scored in 28th, 30th and 32nd after having their opportunities to win the 500 spoiled due to the late carnage.

There were 36 lead changes for 13 different leaders. The race featured seven cautions for 37 laps.

Following the first event of the 2022 Cup Series event, Austin Cindric and Brad Keselowski are locked in a tie for the lead in the regular-season standings by five points ahead of Martin Truex Jr., seven over Bubba Wallace and 13 ahead of Chase Briscoe and Ryan Blaney.


1. Austin Cindric, 21 laps led

2. Bubba Wallace, 12 laps led

3. Chase Briscoe

4. Ryan Blaney, 36 laps led

5. Aric Almirola

6. Kyle Busch, 28 laps led

7. Michael McDowell

8. David Ragan

9. Brad Keselowski, 67 laps led

10. Chase Elliott

11. Ty Dillon

12. Daniel Hemric

13. Martin Truex Jr., 11 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner

14. Corey LaJoie

15. Landon Cassill

16. Chris Buescher, one lap down

17. Cody Ware, one lap down

18. Daniel Suarez, one lap down

19. Kurt Busch, two laps down

20. Cole Custer, two laps down

21. Joey Logano, three laps down, one lap led

22. Jacques Villeneuve, three laps down

23. Justin Haley, three laps down

24. Alex Bowman, four laps down

25. Austin Dillon, four laps down

26. Kaz Grala, five laps down

27. BJ McLeod, five laps down

28. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – OUT, Accident, 16 laps led

29. Erik Jones – OUT, Accident, three laps led

30. Kevin Harvick – OUT, Dvp

31. Noah Gragson – OUT, Accident

32. Kyle Larson – OUT, Accident, one lap led

33. Todd Gilliland – OUT, Accident

34. Christopher Bell – OUT, Accident

35. Tyler Reddick – OUT, Accident

36. Greg Biffle, 65 laps down

37. Denny Hamlin – OUT, Accident

38. William Byron – OUT, Accident, one lap led

39. Harrison Burton – OUT, Accident, three laps led

40. Ross Chastain – OUT, Accident

With the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season underway, the competitors will be embarking on a three-race West Coast swing over the next three weeks, beginning with the return of Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, following a one-year absence. The event is scheduled to occur on Sunday, February 27, at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


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