WATKINS GLEN, N.Y.—Austin Cindric screamed joyfully after taking his first checkered flag in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Watkins Glen on Saturday.
“Yes, finally, yes,” Cindric yelled into the radio after holding off AJ Allmendinger at the line by 1.168-seconds.
"I kind of felt like Rocky for a minute, but a little more pathetic because my car didn't work," Cindric added after finally reaching Victory Lane.
The driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford came from sixth to second with seven laps remaining in the Zippo 200 at The Glen after Christopher Bell went sideways. Cindric then set his sights on Allmendinger. With two laps remaining, Cindric nudged Allmendinger through the esses to take the lead. Although Allmendinger was able to catch him coming to the white flag, Cindric extended his advantage over the final 2.45-miles for the win.
“We knew coming into today, especially after qualifying, that it was gonna be really tough to beat Kyle Busch,” said Cindric, who started second. “He had seven-tenths on the field in qualifying and I was scratching my head where to find that, so we knew today was gonna be a good points day and being able to be conservative at tracks that are firmly in our wheelhouse and after they had their issues, we kind of knew it was game-on from there.”
Allmendinger was disqualified after post-race inspection—for the second time in as many races—allowing Bell to move up to second. Justin Allgaier, Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe, Cole Custer, Michael Annett and Noah Gragson rounded out the top 10.
The fireworks started on Lap 14 when Ross Chastain ran into the back of Allgaier in the Inner Loop. Allgaier backed into the tire barrier and was forced to pit. He came out on fresh tires and returned the favor in Turn 5 just prior to the conclusion of the first stage and ended Chastain’s day.
“Nobody mess with him,” Chastain told his team over the radio. “I’ll find him when everyone is away.”
Polesitter Kyle Busch dominated the first stage and led 21 laps before pitting. Just after regaining the lead on Lap 34, he spun out in Turn 5 after an issue with his suspension. Busch finished 31st.
“As soon as KB went out, everybody’s eyes opened up, and it was like, ‘OK, here we go,’” Allmendinger said.
Allmendinger went on to win Stage 2 followed by Blaney, Ryan Preece, Cindric, Briscoe, John Hunter Nemechek, Brandon Jones, Allgaier, Justin Haley, Bell and Ryan Sieg. The No. 10 Kaulig Racing team was on a two-tire strategy and remained on the track to retain the lead. He pitted on Lap 50 and turned the lead over to Allgaier.
Allgaier pitted from the lead on Lap 64 and Cindric moved to the point for the first time in the race. Tommy Joe Martins spun with laps remaining but the race remained under green-flag conditions until the left front tire came off of Garrett Smithley’s car in the Inner Loop for the sixth caution.
Brian Wilson, crew chief of the No. 22 called Cindric to the pits for fresh tires. Briscoe, Blaney and Annett followed on Lap 70. Before the race returned to full speed, Haley and Josh Bilicki made contact and collected Jones, Gray Gaulding, Preece and Briscoe.
Cindric, who restarted ninth on the previous caution, moved up to sixth with seven laps to go. Bell went sideways after the race went green but regained control of his car.
“I just got lucky, for whatever reason it decided to turn around instead of going into the fence,” Bell said. “I think if I could have been a little bit better, I could have won.”
Cindric avoided Bell and caught Allmendinger five laps later through the esses.
“When you take tires like that, it’s all about getting lucky,” Allmendinger said. “If you get a restart where you get by a chunk of cars, it makes that strategy work—and he did it.
“Congrats to Austin. He went in there and nudged me, and that was fair. I nudged him—you race how you get raced—but that’s what racing’s all about. He deserved it. He was on it the whole race.”
Cindric, 20, was relieved to finally win an Xfinity Series race in his 54th career start.
“It’s a momentum shift,” Cindric said. “It definitely is. This team is used to winning. I entered this year and they expect to win championships. They expect to win the owner’s championships the last couple of years and I don’t think our cars are exactly where we want them to be.
“We want to be where that top three group is running every weekend and I feel like I’ve learned a lot on the oval side of things to be able to execute those weekends better and maybe get more out of my car and understand what that experience side means and really exploit that.
“I had to step up and make it happen on restarts and sometimes you just have to have a little confidence in yourself, but the momentum shift, I think, should be really good for our program.”