By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Despite a fast No. 22 PPG Ford Mustang, Austin Cindric left Homestead-Miami Speedway with just a top-five finish.
Cindric ran inside the top-five throughout much of the Contender Boats 250. After leading the most laps, the defending NASCAR Xfinity Series champion lost the lead on a lap 116 restart. Cindric never regained the lead and slipped down the running order.
In the closing laps of the third race of the season, Cindric reported a slow leak in the right front tire of his Ford Mustang. However, a late-race caution allowed the 22-year-old to pit for fresh tires. In the first race of 2021 featuring the choose rule, Cindric thought he was selecting the correct lanes. On each restart, he failed to move forward and actually slipped backward.
After two overtime attempts, Cindric had fallen outside of the top-10. When the Mooresville, N.C. native took the checkered flag, he was sixth on track. Upon the completion of post-race technical inspection, Tyler Reddick’s second-place car was disqualified. That moved Cindric back into the top-five.
“I feel like we probably deserved to be a top-five car and maybe if we made some different decisions there on the choose,” admitted Cindric before post-race tech was completed. “Who knows, we maybe would have given ourselves a better shot to win the race in our PPG Ford Mustang. At the same time, I think we did a pretty good job on strategy. All in all, it was an okay day.
“We definitely learned a lot and we tried to make a short-run car into a long-run car and we probably just hurt ourselves for when the sun went down. Lesson learned there and definitely some good info there moving forward in the season.”
Cindric started from the pole due to NASCAR’s metric qualifying formula. That marked his third-straight front row starting position. Despite the advantage of starting up front, a decision not to pit for tires under caution in Stage 1 dropped Cindric out of the top-10.
In Stage 2, Team Penske crew chief Brian Wilson flipped the strategy. On fresh tires, Cindric blitzed the field and within five laps had taken the lead. He won the Stage, picking up 10 points and one playoff point.
The fifth-place finish is Cindric’s third this season and is the 43rd in his Xfinity Series career. It is also his fourth consecutive top-five, dating back to his champion winning performance at Phoenix Raceway last season.
Courtesy of his victory in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, Cindric is locked into the playoffs. He currently out-points Homestead race winner Myatt Snider in the playoff points category by two points. Cindric leads the overall points standings by 29 over Snider.
Next up for Cindric and his Xfinity Series competition is the Alsco Uniforms 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 6.
Feature Photo Credit: NKP / NKP Photo