DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Austin Cindric’s full-time Cup Series debut couldn’t have gone any better.
The Team Penske rookie edged Bubba Wallace by a nose in overtime to win the 64th Daytona 500 on his team owner Roger Penske’s 85th birthday.
Cindric, 23, was making just his eighth Cup start but first as a full-time racer. He took over the No. 2 Ford when Brad Keselowski became a driver owner for RFK Racing.
Cindric, who won the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship, became the second youngest Daytona 500 champion following Trevor Bayne, who won the 2011 race at the age of 20 years and one day.
Cindric got a big push from his Penske teammate Ryan Blaney in the No. 12 Team Penske Ford in the two-lap overtime shootout to hold off the No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota of Wallace, who collected his second runner-up finish at the Daytona 500 after finishing second in 2018. Wallace had captured his first career Cup Series win at last year’s Talladega playoff race after finishing second at the Daytona 400-lap summer race, which served as the 2021 regular-season finale.
Chase Briscoe finished third, Blaney fourth and Aric Almirola, in his final NASCAR season, fifth. Kyle Busch overcame early damage to finish sixth, last year’s winner Michael McDowell finished seventh, while David Ragan, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott rounded out the top 10.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had put himself in great position to win his first Daytona 500, but with four laps remaining his No. 47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet got loose and then got spun after a push from Keselowski in the No. 6 RFK Racing Ford.
Stenhouse then caromed into Keselowski’s RFK teammate Chris Buescher in the No. 17 Ford, bringing out the caution and sending the race to overtime.
A number of contenders were knocked out on lap 190 of a scheduled 200 when reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet built up a head of steam on the outside row and got into the back of Kevin Harvick in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford who had to check up to avoid Buescher.
Harvick spun down into Noah Gragson in the No. 62 Chevrolet to ignite the multi-car wreck. Erik Jones in the No. 43 Chevrolet, Todd Gilliland in the No. 38 Ford and 2020 Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, in the No. 9 Chevrolet, were also involved
With 50 laps to go in the 200-lap race, Tyler Reddick in the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet got loose on the frontstretch. He got completely turned around before his back bumper smashed into the outside wall while his nose made contact with the oncoming Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
The contact between Reddick and Truex set off a chain reaction with Kurt Busch in the No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota and Joey Logano in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford running right behind the No. 19.
Busch and Logano spun to the inside of the track and both slid through the tri-oval grass. Reddick’s Daytona 500 ended there, and Truex was able to remain on the lead lap, but Logano and Busch were able to continue from a few laps down.
Here’s a recap of the opening two stages:
The first 63 laps were largely uneventful, save for a couple rogue tires abandoning their cars. But then Cup Series rookie Harrison Burton ended upside down for a brief moment on Lap 64 before his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford flipped back upright.
Thankfully, Burton was OK after that wild ride, and he was evaluated and released from the infield care center.
“I’ve hit a lot harder before, that’s for sure,” Burton said. “It’s just unfortunate. I hate it for the Wood Brothers group. They brought a really fast Ford Mustang down here and ended up on our lid, so that’s never good.”
Leading the outside lane on the backstretch of the 2.5-mile track, Burton got a hard of push from Keselowski in the No. 6 RFK Racing Ford, turning the No. 21 inside toward traffic. Burton immediately hit William Byron in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet before flipping onto its roof.
That push triggered an eight-car incident and knocked several drivers — including favorite Denny Hamlin, Ross Chastain and Byron — out of the race early on.
“(Keselowski) was pushing (Burton), and you could see the 21 was kind of getting out of control there,” Hamlin said afterward. “So you know the mindset was that you’ve got to back off, but I think the 6 was just insistent on pushing him at all costs and eventually turned the 21 around. Tough, you know, considering it was just for the stage.”
Kyle Busch was involved in the wreck but was able to continue, and same for Alex Bowman, who fell several laps behind the leaders. Christopher Bell was also involved and after returning to the track to make minimum speed, he retreated to the garage for suspension repairs with the hope of coming back out.
The multi-car wreck forced the 65-lap Stage 1 to end under caution, with Truex winning it. He was followed by Keselowski, rookie Todd Gilliland, Stenhouse, Logano, Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott and pole-sitter Kyle Larson to round out the top 10.
After an eventful end to the first stage, the second one was far more chill, as Truex scooped up his second stage win of the day.
Keselowski led 19 of Stage 2’s 65 laps and looked poised to grab the stage win with his former Team Penske teammate, Logano, right behind him. But Truex had other plans and jumped out from behind Logano to take the lead on the final lap before the stage break.
Truex was followed by Logano, Bubba Wallace, Keselowski, Stenhouse, rookie Austin Cindric, Chris Buescher, Kevin Harvick, Larson and Gilliland to complete the top-10 finishers.
An eight-car wreck at the end of the first stage’s 65 laps knocked several contenders out. And although Bell was involved in the incident, his Joe Gibbs Racing team was able to make suspension repairs on his No. 20 Toyota. But by the time Bell returned to the race, he was 41 laps behind the leaders.
Contributing: Ellen J. Horrow in Arlington, Virginia