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Cindric benefits from Blaney’s last-lap misfortune for a wild Cup victory at Gateway

In a season mired with only a single top-five result and nine results outside the top 20 through 14 races, Austin Cindric achieved good fortunes under the Gateway Arch, racing his way into Playoff contention after taking advantage of teammate Ryan Blaney running out of fuel on the final lap to win the third annual running of the Enjoy Illinois 300 at World Wide Technology Raceway on Sunday, June 2.

The 2022 Daytona 500 champion from Mooresville, North Carolina, led three times for 53 of 240 scheduled laps in an event where he started on the front row alongside pole-sitter Michael McDowell and raced competitively towards the front. As the event quickly became a race of execution in pit strategy within the field, Cindric, who accumulated a bevy of stage points during the event’s two stage periods and led for the first time on Lap 97, made his final pit service with 63 laps remaining under green flag conditions, one lap after teammate Ryan Blaney pitted. Cindric then spent the remainder of the event navigating his way around the Gateway course and methodically climbing the leaderboard as more front-runners pitted. Amid his drive back to the front, he was also trying to keep pace with Blaney, who would prevail in a late battle of his own against Christopher Bell.

Then after being initially poised for a runner-up result behind Blaney with two laps remaining, Cindric struck gold after Blaney ran out of fuel and quickly fell off the pace through the frontstretch. Having the lead to his advantage for a final lap, Cindric was able to have enough fuel and horsepower within his No. 2 Team Penske Ford Mustang Dark Horse entry to cycle back to the frontstretch and claim his second NASCAR Cup Series career victory in his 94th series start along with his first win in two years.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, June 1, Michael McDowell achieved his third Cup pole position of this season and of his career after posting a pole-winning lap at 138.598 mph in 32.468 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Austin Cindric, who clocked in the second-fastest qualifying lap at 138.134 mph in 32.577 seconds.

When the green flag waved and the event commenced, McDowell jumped his No. 34 Siteman Cancer Center Ford Mustang Dark Horse ahead from the outside lane and he led the field through the first two turns and through the backstretch. With Christopher Bell navigating his way into the runner-up spot and the field behind fanning out to multiple lanes, McDowell proceeded to lead the first lap from Bell. Behind, Ryan Blaney was up to third place while teammate Austin Cindric dropped to fourth place as he was racing in front of Tyler Reddick, Denny Hamlin, Bubba Wallace and Brad Keselowski.

The following lap, Wallace, who was battling Keselowski for seventh place, bumped into the side of Keselowski as Keselowski got loose and briefly went up the track through Turns 1 and 2, but he managed to keep his car running straight despite dropping out of the top 10 on the track. Then prior to the third lap, the event’s first caution period flew after John Hunter Nemechek and Cody Ware both spun in Turn 2.

During the next restart period on the seventh lap, McDowell and Bell dueled for the lead through the first two turns until McDowell just managed to clear Bell’s No. 20 DeWalt Toyota Camry XSE through the backstretch. As the field behind fanned out to multiple lanes for a second time, McDowell retained the lead by a narrow margin over Bell as Team Penske’s Blaney and Cindric battled for third place in front of Toyota drivers Reddick, Denny Hamlin, Ty Gibbs and Wallace. William Byron and Keselowski would trail in the top 10 along with Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Kyle Larson while McDowell led the Lap 10 mark by three-tenths of a second over Bell.

Through the first 15 scheduled laps, McDowell was leading by half a second over Bell followed by Blaney, Cindric and Hamlin while Reddick, Gibbs, Byron, Wallace and Logano were scored in the top 10. Behind, Larson occupied 11th place ahead of Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch while rookie Josh Berry, Ross Chastain, Martin Truex Jr., rookie Carson Hocevar and Austin Dillon trailed in the top 20.

Shortly after, the event’s second caution period flew after Cody Ware was involved in a second two-car spin in Turn 2, with his latest one including Kaulig Racing’s Derek Kraus. During the caution period, select names led by Keselowski and including Busch, Truex, Austin Dillon and Josh Berry pitted while the rest led by McDowell remained on the track. Amid the pit stops, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who pitted, was penalized for speeding while Keselowski pitted for a second time to address a loose wheel to his No. 6 Solomon Plumbing Ford Mustang Dark Horse.

As the event restarted under green on Lap 22, McDowell and Bell battled dead even for the lead through the first two turns until McDowell managed to muscle ahead from Bell from the outside lane. McDowell proceeded to lead the proceeding lap from Bell as he had both lanes in his control while Blaney was trying to fend off Cindric, Hamlin and a hard-charging Byron for third place. Behind, Wallace and Logano battled fiercely for ninth place in front of Alex Bowman, where Wallace blocked Logano through the frontstretch before Logano prevailed and overtook Wallace from the inside lane through the first two turns. Amid the early battles, McDowell retained the lead by three-tenths of a second over Bell by the Lap 25 mark.

Through the first 30 scheduled laps, McDowell continued to lead by two-tenths of a second over Bell followed by Blaney, Cindric and Hamlin as Byron, Gibbs, Reddick, Logano and Chase Elliott trailed in the top 10. Wallace, Larson, Bowman, Erik Jones and Ross Chastain trailed in the top 15 while Ryan Preece, Todd Gilliland, Carson Hocevar, Justin Haley and John Hunter Nemechek followed suit in the top 20. Meanwhile, a bevy of top names including Kyle Busch, Truex, Berry, Chase Briscoe, Noah Gragson, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, Keselowski and Daniel Suarez trailed the lead outside the top 20 on the track.

Just past the Lap 35 mark, the top three competitors on the track were separated by less than half a second as runner-up Bell and third-place Blaney slowly began to close in on McDowell for the lead. At the same time, however, Blaney would start to challenge Bell for the runner-up spot while fourth-place Cindric trailed by two seconds. Bell would then make two different attempts to overtake the leader McDowell from the inside lane through the Lap 40 mark, which he prevailed after running McDowell up the track through Turns 1 and 2. As McDowell tried to fight back from the outside lane, Bell maintained both his racing line on the inside lane and the lead during the proceeding lap.

When the first stage period concluded on Lap 45, Bell, winner of last weekend’s rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, captured his fifth Cup stage victory of the 2024 season. McDowell held off Blaney to retain second followed by Cindric and Hamlin while Byron, Gibbs, Reddick, Logano and Elliott were scored in the top 10 on the track. By then, all but one of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap.

Under the stage break, a majority of the field led by Bell pitted while the rest led by Todd Gilliland, including those who pitted during the second caution period, among which included Kyle Busch, Berry, Austin Dillon and Stenhouse, remained on the track. Following the pit stops and amid mixed strategies, Ryan Preece exited pit road first with two fresh tires ahead of Truex while Bell, the first competitor with four fresh tires, followed suit along with McDowell, Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Blaney, Hamlin, Gibbs and Keselowski.

The second stage period started on Lap 54 as Gilliland and Busch occupied the front row. At the start, Gilliland and Busch briefly dueled for the lead until Busch rocketed his No. 8 Rebel Bourbon Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 into the lead through the first two turns. As the field fanned out to multiple lanes and jostled for spots through the backstretch, Busch led Gilliland and teammate Austin Dillon back to the frontstretch. Behind, Berry occupied fourth place while Stenhouse was in fifth ahead of Bell, Preece, Truex, Cindric and Elliott.

Just past the Lap 56 mark, Gilliland dropped from second to seventh on the track. This enabled Dillon to move his No. 3 DOW/Rivers are Life Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 into the runner-up spot behind teammate Busch while Berry, Stenhouse, Bell and Truex followed suit. Preece would then move into eighth place while Briscoe and Cindric battled fiercely for 10th place. With a multitude of battles ensuing around the circuit and between those with fresh tires versus those with none, Busch maintained the lead by eight-tenths of a second over teammate Dillon by Lap 60.

At the Lap 70 mark, Bell, who was charging his way to the front on four fresh tires, overtook Busch to move back into the lead. Behind, Dillon trailed in third place by a second and a half while Truex and Berry followed suit in the top five as they trailed the lead by three seconds.

Ten laps later, Bell was leading by more than a second over Busch followed by Dillon, Truex and Berry while Elliott, Stenhouse, Cindric, Blaney and Preece were racing in the top 10 ahead of Hamlin, Larson, Wallace, Briscoe and Gibbs. Meanwhile, McDowell, who restarted 10th at the start of the second stage period, was down in 16th ahead of Logano, Keselowski, Gilliland and Bowman as Byron, Chastain, Reddick, Haley and Buescher trailed outside the top 20.

Another 10 laps later, Bell extended his advantage to more than three seconds over Busch as Dillon, Truex and Berry continued to run in the top five. Elliott, Stenhouse, Cindric and Blaney also continued to race from sixth to ninth, respectively, while Hamlin occupied 10th place in front of Larson, Wallace, Preece, Gibbs and Briscoe.

Then during the next lap, select names including Richard Childress Racing’s Busch and Dillon pitted under green along with Gilliland. Berry, who was running fourth, pitted his No. 4 Overstock.com Ford Mustang Dark Horse under green during the proceeding lap along with Stenhouse, Haley and Derek Kraus while Bell continued to lead. Soon after, a cycle of green flag pit stops slowly commenced on Lap 94 as Larson pitted his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 from the top 10 and only for two fresh tires. The leader Bell, along with Hamlin, Chastain, Reddick, Elliott, Erik Jones and Nemechek would pit during the proceeding laps as Berry was penalized for speeding on pit road.

By Lap 100, Austin Cindric was one of many who had yet to pit and was leading by nearly a second over teammate Blaney as Wallace, Preece and Gibbs followed suit in the top five. Gibbs would then pit under green along with Wallace, Byron, McDowell, Preece, Daniel Suarez, Buescher and Bowman over the next five laps while Cindric continued to lead.

Then on Lap 109, Truex, who pitted earlier under green, pitted his No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry XSE for a second time after he lost his left-rear tire. Amid Truex’s issues, the event remained under green flag conditions as Truex lost two laps in the process. The caution, however, flew on Lap 111 after Berry lost a left front tire and slid dead straight into the outside wall in Turn 4 as his event came to an end. By then, 17 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap while a multitude of names led by the leader Cindric, many of whom were anticipating a caution, have yet to pit as part of their strategic move. During the caution period, a majority of the lead lap field by Cindric, including those who have to pit, pitted while the rest, led by Bell and including Elliott and Larson, remained on the track.

When the event restarted under green on Lap 119, Bell and Elliott dueled for the lead through the first two turns until Bell rocketed ahead from the outside lane through the backstretch. Bell would maintain the top spot and lead the halfway mark on Lap 120 while Busch was trying to close in on Elliott for the runner-up spot. In addition, Cindric battled Larson for fourth place in front of Blaney as the rest of the field behind jostled for spots.

By Lap 130, Bell stretched his advantage to more than two seconds over Cindric, who was battling Elliott for the spot. Behind, Blaney occupied fourth place in front of a side-by-side battle between Busch and Logano while Keselowski, Larson, Briscoe and Hocevar were in the top 10 ahead of Dillon, Harrison Burton, Hamlin, Daniel Hemric, Gibbs, Zane Smith, Noah Gragson, Corey LaJoie, Byron and Reddick.

Then on the final lap of the second stage period, the caution flew after Larson, who was battling fiercely with Busch amid close-quarters racing and contact through the frontstretch for seventh place, got loose and slid up the track into Busch, with Busch sliding and hitting the outside wall hard while Larson continued to slide sideways towards the outside wall. The incident between Busch and Larson, which ended Busch’s strong run in the garage and spoiled his bid to win for two consecutive years at Gateway, concluded the second stage period on Lap 140 as Bell captured his sixth Cup stage victory of the 2024 season as he also swept both stages of the day. Cindric settled in second ahead of Blaney, Elliott and Keselowski while Logano, Briscoe, Hocevar, Dillon and Hamlin were scored in the top 10.

During the stage break, mixed strategies ensued within the field as some led by Bell pitted while the rest led by Cindric, including his Team Penske teammates Blaney and Logano, remained on the track.

With 92 laps remaining, the final stage commenced as teammates Cindric and Blaney occupied the front row. At the start, the field quickly fanned out through the frontstretch as Briscoe attempted to make a three-wide move on both Cindric and Blaney for the lead through the first two turns. Cindric, however, muscled his No. 2 Freightliner Ford Mustang Dark Horse ahead from the outside lane through the backstretch while Blaney and Logano muscled back ahead of Briscoe into the top three. Hocevar then battled Logano for third place while more jostling of spots ensued within the middle of the pack during the following lap. Amid the battles and as Bell was trying to navigate his way back towards the front, Cindric retained the lead with 90 laps remaining.

Down to the final 80 laps of the event, Cindric was leading by six-tenths of a second over teammate Blaney while teammate Logano trailed in third place by two seconds. Behind, Hocevar retained fourth place ahead of Hamlin and a hard-charging Bell as Briscoe, Dillon, Chastain and Keselowski trailed in the top 10 ahead of Reddick, Hemric, Haley, Zane Smith and Elliott. Meanwhile, Stenhouse occupied 16th place ahead of Byron, Buescher, Burton and Gragson while Gilliland, Preece, Larson, Wallace and Gibbs occupied the top 25 in front of Erik Jones, Bowman, Suarez, McDowell and Nemechek.

Fifteen laps later, Cindric maintained the lead by six-tenths of a second over teammate Blaney while teammate Logano continued to trail in third place by five seconds. As Hocevar surrendered fourth place to pit under green, Bell cycled his way up to fourth place, where he trailed the lead by six seconds, while teammate Hamlin moved up to fifth place.

Another lap later, however, pit strategies amongst the front-runners started to occur as Blaney pitted his No. 12 Menards Ford Mustang Dark Horse from the runner-up spot before the leader Cindric, Hamlin and Zane Smith pitted another lap later. Logano would then pit his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang Dark Horse along with Dillon, Briscoe and Byron with 63 laps remaining as Bell returned atop the leaderboard. With Stewart-Haas Racing’s Preece and Gragson pitting not long after, Bell was leading Keselowski by more than four seconds as Reddick, Haley and Chastain followed suit in the top five with 60 laps remaining.

With less than 50 laps remaining, Bell, who has yet to pit, continued to lead by more than five seconds over Keselowski as Reddick, Haley and Chastain continued to race in the top five. Meanwhile, Blaney and Cindric, both of whom managed to pit and remain on the lead lap ahead of Bell, were mired back in 18th and 20th, respectively. Bell would then pit from the lead with 47 laps remaining along with Reddick and Chastain as Keselowski cycled into the lead. With Haley, LaJoie and Stenhouse pitting not long after, Keselowski, who has yet to pit, continued to lead by more than nine seconds over Elliott as Larson, Gibbs, Gilliland, Wallace, McDowell, Bowman, Erik Jones and Nemechek trailed in the top 10 with 40 laps remaining. By then, Blaney, Cindric and Bell, all of whom had enough fuel to complete the event’s scheduled distance, had cycled their way just outside the top-10 mark.

Down to the final 30 laps of the event, Keselowski retained the lead by 11 seconds over Larson before he pitted a lap later. By then, Elliott had pitted his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 while Larson cycled into the lead. Then as Gibbs also pitted a few laps later, Blaney cycled his way up into the runner-up spot while Bell, Wallace and Cindric followed suit. As Blaney and Bell battled for the runner-up spot and potentially for the victory, Larson, who has yet to pit, retained the lead by 13 seconds with 25 laps remaining.

Then with 24 laps remaining, Larson surrendered the lead to pit, which moved Blaney into the lead by a mere margin over Bell as Bell continued to pressure Blaney for the position. Behind the two leaders, Cindric was up to third place while Wallace and McDowell were in the top five. Amid Bell’s continuous challenges through the turns and from the inside lane, Blaney managed to prevail through the straightaways from the outside lane as he led with 20 laps remaining.

Bell then led the following lap after he moved in front of Blaney through the straightaway, but Blaney responded with a crossover move on Bell through the frontstretch and entering Turn 1. Bell then pulled a crossover move of his own underneath Blaney, who barely slipped up the track, through the backstretch, but Blaney moved in front of Bell to block him and remain ahead of him as he returned to the lead with 18 laps remaining. Bell then slowly began to fall off the pace through the backstretch as he reported an engine issue to his car, which allowed Cindric to catch up and overtake him for the runner-up spot with 16 laps remaining while Blaney pulled away with the lead.

With 10 laps remaining, Blaney retained the lead by two seconds over teammate Cindric. Behind, Hamlin navigated his way up to third place while Bell, who was trying to nurse his car to the finish, settled in fourth while Keselowski trailed in fifth place by eight seconds. Keselowski and Reddick would catch and overtake Bell for positions while Blaney stabilized his advantage of less than two seconds over teammate Cindric, who was trying to navigate his way through lapped traffic, with five laps remaining.

Then as Blaney was about to cycle his way back to the frontstretch to start the final lap of the event, he quickly fell off the pace after he ran out of fuel, which allowed Cindric to zip by him with the lead through the frontstretch. As Blaney was trying to coast his No. 12 Ford around the circuit for a final time, Cindric was able to cruise his No. 2 Ford around the Gateway circuit smoothly for a final time as he returned to the frontstretch with enough fuel underneath his tank and victorious for the second time in his career.

With the victory, Cindric, who notched the second victory in three races for the new Ford Mustang Dark Horse stock car, became the 142nd competitor overall to achieve multiple victories in the Cup Series and he snapped an 85-race winless drought since he notched his first Cup career victory in the 2022 Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

In addition to becoming the ninth competitor to win through the 2024 season’s first 15-scheduled events and guaranteeing himself a Playoff berth for this season, Cindric also delivered the first Cup victory of the season for Team Penske and the first ever for crew chief Brian Wilson, who celebrated an Xfinity Series championship with Cindric in 2020 and was moved to the No. 2 team from the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing team midway into the 2023 season.

Photo by Simon Scoggins for SpeedwayMedia.com.

“Honestly, I’m heartbroken for the No. 12 team,” Cindric said. “I don’t know what happened to them at the end of the race, but they deserve to win this race. Ryan’s [Blaney] been a hell of a leader on this team. This weekend was a great weekend for everybody involved, but to have two cars in the fight, an eventual one, two [finish] there. Like I said, I’m heartbroken for those guys, but this is huge for me. This is huge for this team. I’m so glad I was able to get a win with [crew chief] Brian [Wilson] as my crew chief in the Cup Series. You never know when it’s going to happen again. Just drove my butt off and hope for the best.”

“[The win]’s everything, it’s absolutely everything,” Cindric added. “The funniest thing about it is that this Freightliner Ford Mustang’s probably one of the best-looking cars on the racetrack. I have had terrible races every single time with this car and it’s great to win with a great paint scheme. Great to win front of an amazing crowd. This racetrack does an amazing job of putting on events. Just proud to be able to do it. Proud to bring it home for these [No. 2] guys. They deserve it.”

As Cindric celebrated on the frontstretch, teammate Blaney was left dejected on pit road after ending up in 24th place in the final running order as he continues to seek his first Cup victory of the 2024 season.

“No, I didn’t think so [of running out of fuel],” Blaney said. “[I] Never thought in my mind we were short, but one of those things. Proud of the No. 12 boys. [I] Had my work cut out for me holding off Christopher [Bell]. That was a fun battle. Yeah, one lap short. That stinks, but congrats to the No. 2 team. They did a good job all day, so it’s a props for them, Austin [Cindric]. Proud for Team Penske and Ford. Really happy with our showing today. I don’t know what I got to do to get some luck on our side. Gosh, [I] wrecked the last two points races and thought we had a great shot to win today. Ended up bad. Appreciate the effort, just got to keep sticking with it.”

Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin piloted his No. 11 Yahoo! Toyota Camry XSE into the runner-up spot while Brad Keselowski, Tyler Reddick and Joey Logano came home in the top five.

Austin Dillon settled in sixth place followed by Bell, who had enough power to finish despite leading a race-high 80 laps, while rookie Carson Hocevar, Justin Haley and Kyle Larson finished in the top 10.  

There were 16 lead changes for 10 different leaders. The race featured five cautions for 32 laps. In addition, 24 of 36 starters finished on the lead lap.

Following the 15th event of the 2024 Cup Series season, Denny Hamlin continues to lead the regular-season standings by 21 points over Kyle Larson, 27 over Chase Elliott, 44 over Martin Truex Jr. and 36 over William Byron.

Results.

1. Austin Cindric, 53 laps led

2. Denny Hamlin

3. Brad Keselowski, 17 laps led

4. Tyler Reddick

5. Joey Logano, one lap led

6. Austin Dillon

7. Christopher Bell, 80 laps led, Stages 1 & 2 winner

8. Carson Hocevar

9. Justin Haley

10. Kyle Larson, seven laps led

11. Ty Gibbs

12. Ross Chastain

13. Chase Elliott

14. Chris Buescher

15. William Byron  

16. Todd Gilliland, six laps led

17. Chase Briscoe

18. Daniel Hemric

19. Zane Smith

20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

21. Bubba Wallace

22. Noah Gragson

23. Daniel Suarez

24. Ryan Blaney, 20 laps led

25. Michael McDowell, one lap down, 40 laps led

26. Erik Jones, one lap down

27. John Hunter Nemechek, one lap down

28. Alex Bowman, one lap down

29. Ryan Preece, one lap down

30. Derek Kraus, one lap down

31. Harrison Burton, one lap down

32. Corey LaJoie, one lap down

33. Cody Ware, two laps down

34. Martin Truex Jr., three laps down, one lap led

35. Kyle Busch – OUT, Accident, 15 laps led

36. Josh Berry – OUT, Accident

Next on the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California. The event is scheduled to occur next Sunday, June 9, and air 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 SpeedwayMedia.com

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