It looked early on as Austin Cindric’s race and playoff run was over at Bristol Motor Speedway during Saturday’s (Sept. 17) night race.
But Cindric overcame a puncture and lost seven laps to finish 20th and win the final NASCAR Cup Series Round of 16 with just two points. The reason why Cindric was able to finish so high despite losing so many laps? Many of its playoff competitors had even bigger problems, and every Toyota had a problem.
Cindric’s puncture came on lap 85 and the warning flag didn’t fly for it. As a result, Cindric found himself in a four-round first hole that would seemingly be impossible to get out of.
“There’s a part of me that’s like, ‘Man, that’s kinda bullshit. I blew a tire and got no warning,'” Cindric said. “But I also think that maybe NASCAR recognized that there might be issues with the tires, I probably get it, OK, it’s not just a one-time deal. Mine was the first to go.
But the opportunity to gain positions quickly presented itself when the Toyota 23XI Racing (Bubba Wallace, Ty Gibbs) and Martin Truex Jr. had power steering problems. Wallace and Gibbs went behind the wall before finally coming back (behind Cindric) while Truex was out of the race.
“He blew the seal and pushed all the fluid on the right front tire,” Truex told NBC. ” Simply incredible. What [Kevin] Harvick says? Shitty parts.
Then Cindric passed another Toyota when Kyle Busch’s engine failed on lap 269. The other two Toyotas of Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell also had problems, both with flat tires. But neither was big enough for Cindric to overtake them.
“Absolutely devastated,” Busch said. “Unfortunate circumstances of course, another engine failure this week. … I can’t stress enough how I feel about my guys.
Busch’s retirement combined with Tyler Reddick taking damage in a wreck started by Daniel Suarez on lap 278 led to a close points battle between Busch, Reddick and Cindric the rest of the way. Both 23XI cars returned to the track, with Wallace passing Busch. Gibbs, however, parked the No. 23 just four laps from passing the No. 18.
“For a while it was just driving as hard as possible because they dropped like flies,” Cindric said. “Try not to force the issues, try not to force the right front tire failures anymore. … I think I was even with 18 [Busch] for 100 rounds.
Cindric’s team didn’t start updating him on the points situation until they got closer and he was back.
“Not until there was a chance,” Cindric said. “I was told at the start of stage 3 how close it was, or how close it was. There were probably 16 outs at the start of stage 3. Then we were five retirees, four retirees, tied with 18. … A perfect storm in some ways.
It looked like Cindric had stalled on the positions he could gain until his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano along with Ty Dillon and Aric Almirola retired from the race. This gave him the edge over Busch, and he was able to finish higher than Reddick due to the excessive damage and slower pace of No. 8.
“One hell of a night,” Cindric said. “I still don’t think this place loves me back, but he showed me some mercy tonight. We’re going to take it and run with it and be on offense for the next three races, just like we were supposed to start. Darlington this sleeve and have fun with it.
Cindric now turns his attention to the knockout stages, where he starts as the lowest seed and seven points below the cut line. But motivating himself to overcome that deficit shouldn’t be a problem after the Daytona 500 champion found a way to motivate himself to keep driving hard on Saturday night, despite so many laps behind.
“I guess the funny thing is when I’m preparing for these races, I don’t have a lot of weight to lose, a lot to burn,” Cindric said. “So I always hydrate a ton. And I was like, ‘You know what, you hydrate for a reason. You really have to pee for a reason. You might as well use it.
“I would say it’s the little motivating things. It might be a little weird, I don’t know. I came prepared and might as well give it our all.
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