Skip to main content

Austin Cindric gave team owner Roger Penske an 85th birthday present on Sunday that he’ll never forget.

Showing the gritty determination of a veteran, the 23-year-old rookie NASCAR Cup driver and son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric, won the 64th Daytona 500 Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

“What an unbelievable day, what an unbelievable car,” Cindric told Motor Racing Network. “I know so many drivers have tried so many years to win this one and to do it in my second time in this race and in front of a packed house for the Daytona 500 and get us in the playoffs, I can’t think of a better day to celebrate. It was not easy, but wow, what an awesome day."

Cindric obviously has his father to thank for much of his development as a race car driver, but Penske has also been just as big of a believer in his talent and ability. In a sense, Cindric's victory was also a gift to Penske.

“I think it’s the only one you can be confident you can regift,” Cindric laughed about giving Penske, nicknamed "The Captain", such a unique birthday gift. “It’s an amazing achievement for me, to think I’m the Daytona 500 winner. I never would have dreamed it, with a group of people who believed in me, believed in my development. Oh God, I’m pumped.

“I love this sport, I love racing, I love everything about it. And I can’t imagine to do anything else other than drive race cars and be around this in my life. What an amazing day.”

Penske doesn't recall ever winning a race on his birthday, but he didn't miss a beat when asked that question: "I don't know. I got a big cake, though, didn't I?" he said with a big smile.

Penske then added in a more analytical tone, "If you looked at Austin this week and the way he ran, he didn't make a mistake today. He was up second, third, almost the entire race, and then at the end to be able to pull it off, which shows you the quality of kid he is and also the experience that he already has as a young man. We're very excited about the win."

Cindric got a great jump on the final restart on Lap 198 and sailed on to victory. And in so doing, he made an immediate impact on a team that some felt may lose a lot with the departure after last season of Brad Keselowski, who joined Roush Fenway Racing as a part-owner/driver. Cindric replaced Keselowski in the Penske lineup, even driving the same number car, No. 2.

When it came down to the checkered flag, though, Cindric was in the right place at the right time, earning his first career Cup win in only his eighth start in NASCAR’s premier series (he made seven starts last season, with a best showing of ninth in the Brickyard 400).

Cindric was beyond excited after capturing the win, literally burning the rubber off his tires that caused a significant delay to get his car towed to victory lane to begin his celebration.

Austin Cindric makes it official, taking the checkered flag after winning the 64th Daytona 500 on Sunday. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Austin Cindric makes it official, taking the checkered flag after winning the 64th Daytona 500 on Sunday. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Cindric, who won the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship in 2020 and finished second last season, is now the first driver to be qualified for the 10-race playoffs later this year. 

In a sense, Team Penske remains unbeaten thus far not only in 2022, but also in the highly anticipated debut of the Next Generation/Gen 7 race car. Cindric's teammate, Joey Logano, who is now the veteran driver of the team with Keselowski's departure, won the non-points Busch Light Clash exhibition race two weeks ago at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Even with a race car that suffered significant damage in a wreck on Lap 191, Bubba Wallace still managed to hold on to finish second, followed by Chase Briscoe, Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola. It was the second time Wallace has finished runner-up in the Great American Race, having done so the first time in 2018 -- his first time competing in the 500.

“All gloves are off here and we have to go get it,” Wallace said. “I had a lot of confidence in the last 10 laps that we had it in the bag. Maybe I jumped the gun a little bit, but I’m really proud of everybody at 23XI. This was a good week for us.”

Sixth through 10th were Kyle Busch, last year’s Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell, David Ragan, Keselowski and Chase Elliott.

Do the math and that means Fords took four of the top five spots and seven of the top 10 positions. Toyota had just two drivers in the top 10 (Wallace and Busch) and Elliott was the lone representative for Chevrolet.

The almost inevitable “big one” took place at the end of Lap 190, on the frontstretch, and significantly altered the running order. Chris Buescher was running third and was hit from behind by Kevin Harvick, who himself was hit from behind – and the overall wreck was triggered by – defending Cup champ Kyle Larson, resulting in a multi-car incident that shook up the leaderboard. Others involved in that wreck were Noah Gragson, Erik Jones, Todd Gilliland and Chase Elliott.

“It’s disappointing,” Larson said. “I had a run there on the No. 4 (Harvick). I didn’t realize how close he was to the No. 17 (Buescher). I got to him (Harvick) right as he was getting to him (Buescher) and it got him out of shape. I hate that I did that. It’s so hard see in front of him, especially on the straightaway like that.”

“I didn’t realize how close he (Harvick) was to him (Buescher) and it just got him all jacked up. I hate that it ended our day, as well as a bunch of others.”

Follow Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski, as well as @AutoRaceDigest