Rookie Austin Cindric is the 2022 Daytona 500 champion after a thrilling overtime finish to the season opening race. Only a few short years ago, Cindric was as raw a NASCAR rookie as they came. He had come up the ranks as a highly proficient road course racer, but went through a long feeling-out process trying to figure out how to be fast on ovals. Then, things clicked -- and now, he's etched his name in Daytona 500 history.
With drafting help from Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney, Austin Cindric was able to fend off three different challengers on the final lap of the Daytona 500 to win The Great American Race and earn his first NASCAR Cup Series win. After being pushed clear and away from Brad Keselowski on the outside lane, Cindric blocked Blaney as he cut to the outside off the final corner, then beat a hard-charging Bubba Wallace to the start/finish line to take the checkered flag.
Cindric is now the ninth driver in history to earn his first career Cup win in the Daytona 500, and the second in a row to do so. Cindric now joins a group that includes Tiny Lund (1963), Mario Andretti (1967), Pete Hamilton (1970), Derrike Cope (1990), Sterling Marlin (1994), Michael Waltrip (2001), Trevor Bayne (2011), and Michael McDowell (2021).
Daytona 500 unofficial results
1 - #2 - Austin Cindric (R)
2 - #23 - Bubba Wallace
3 - #14 - Chase Briscoe
4 - #12 - Ryan Blaney
5 - #10 - Aric Almirola
6 - #18 - Kyle Busch
7 - #34 - Michael McDowell
8 - #15 - David Ragan
9 - #6 - Brad Keselowski
10 - #9 - Chase Elliott
The last time Cindric was in a NASCAR race, he ended up getting passed in the final corner of the Xfinity Series championship race at Phoenix, which he lost in a photo finish to Daniel Hemric. This time around, the racing Gods smiled upon Cindric as he had the lead coming off Turn 4 and kept it.
"Damn, I am so excited. This makes up for losing the championship the last race I did," Cindric told Fox Sports. "... I'm just surrounded by great people, that's all there is to it. I know there's gonna be highs and lows being a rookie in a field of drivers this strong. I'm just grateful for the opportunity, excited to climb the mountain we've got ahead of us on the No. 2 team."
With Bubba Wallace making a last push to pass Austin Cindric for the win at the start/finish line, Cindric's victory marks the fourth-closest finish in Daytona 500 history. Cindric's margin of victory over Wallace was .036 seconds, which ranks third among Daytona 500 finishes since the introduction of electronic timing and scoring to NASCAR in 1993.
Here are some of the other takeaways from the 64th Daytona 500.
Cindric ahead of schedule
By no means was Austin Cindric being competitive in 2022 going to be a shock. As the driver of the No. 2 for Team Penske, Cindric was in one of the top cars in the field, and his pedigree from Xfinity Series competition suggested that he would be a contender on ovals and especially road courses. Cindric winning the Daytona 500, though, is a major surprise. Sunday marked the eighth start of Cindric's Cup career after a limited schedule of seven races in 2021.
With his victory, Cindric now takes a decisive lead over his competition for the Rookie of the Year title. Fellow rookie contenders Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland, while having their moments at the front, both crashed out of Sunday's 500.
Next Gen teething troubles
The Daytona 500 marked the very first points race for NASCAR's Next Gen car, and the day showed that the car isn't quite a finished product: In the first half of the race, teams' adaptation to the car's new wheels and single lug nut caused the first and second cautions of the day: First, Kaz Grala spun after losing a wheel in Turn 2, and then Justin Haley lost a tire as he suffered a wheel failure.
It's also likely that NASCAR will have to carefully examine how to keep the Next Gen car on the ground after a multi-car crash on Lap 63, which saw Harrison Burton's car go airborne and flip once onto its roof before settling down on its wheels.
Brad Keselowski ruffles feathers
Keselowski's performance in the Daytona 500, while falling short of Victory Lane on the final lap, capped off a successful Speedweeks for both he and RFK Racing teammate Chris Buescher. But a potential return to prominence for Keselowski's race team didn't come without him making a few enemies.
Two multi-car crashes were caused by Keselowski bump drafting on corner exit. First the eight-car pileup that resulted in Burton's flip, and then one with six laps to go that took Ricky Stenhouse Jr. from contending for the win to crashing out off Turn 4.
Stenhouse did not mince words in voicing his displeasure with Keselowski's driving, which included him taking a shot at how Cindric won the Daytona 500 -- which Keselowski has never won -- in the car he vacated at the end of 2021.
"I guess he just tried to wreck everybody in the field until he won -- I guess his other car won that he gave up," Stenhouse told Bob Pockrass of Fox Sports. "Kudos to him."
Odds and Ends
- With a second-place finish, Bubba Wallace has now finished either first or second in each of the last three Cup races on a superspeedway. Wallace's first career win at Talladega last fall is sandwiched in-between second-place runs at Daytona both last August and tonight. Second-place also ties Wallace's best Daytona 500 finish.
- 2021 Daytona 500 champion Michael McDowell yet again proved his superspeedway prowess, taking home a seventh-place finish for Front Row Motorsports. McDowell's run marks his fifth Top 10 in 11 Daytona 500 tries.
- Likewise, former full-time NASCAR driver turned hobby racer David Ragan also showed off his superspeedway skills. Despite retiring from full-time driving at the end of 2019, Ragan has now scored two Top 10 finishes in his last three Daytona 500 appearances.
- Ty Dillon's return to full-time Cup racing after racing part-time in 2021 got off to a good start, as he led the Petty GMS Motorsports contingent just outside the Top 10 with an 11th place finish. That marks Dillon's best Cup finish since a career-best third at Talladega in 2020.
- Spire Motorsports ran a fairly nondescript Daytona 500, but they were there when it counted. Corey LaJoie finished 14th and Landon Cassill 15th, marking the second-straight year that both Spire cars have earned Top 10s in the Daytona 500.
- In addition to Cindric, Chase Briscoe (third) and Cody Ware (17th) also earned career-best finishes.
The NASCAR Cup Series moves on to its west coast swing, which starts next week with the Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. This will mark NASCAR's return to Fontana after the track did not host a race in 2021 due to state COVID restrictions.