Cindric wins Saturday night’s NXS season opener at Daytona, main takeaways

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Team Penske had zero NASCAR Xfinity Series wins on the Daytona International Speedway oval before. In fact, six times had they been passed on the last lap here. Not Saturday.

Austin Cindric had a great restart in overtime and bested Brett Moffitt by just .104-seconds in his No. 22 Ford. That happened in similar fashion as Phoenix last November as he had a great final restart to win the championship at the end of 2020.

He starts 2021 the same way as 2020 ended with a victory.

“What an awesome race,” said Cindric, who will make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in Sunday’s Daytona 500. “What a really fast Verizon 5G Ford Mustang. Unbelievable effort by everyone at Team Penske.

“Obviously, coming off a lot of momentum winning that championship last year, but nothing is guaranteed and keep working hard. Congrats to my man, (spotter) Coleman (Pressley) up on the roof. He puts in just as much effort or more as I do. I’m proud of him, and we’ll try to go do it again tomorrow, I guess.”

Cindric, wanted to get an oval win last year and he finally did so. He badly wanted a superspeedway win after. He’s now done that.

Cindric, was victorious in the Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. 300. He was fourth in Stage 1 and third in Stage 2.

Moffitt, was runner-up in his No. 02 Chevrolet. He won the second stage and was a factor all night.

“Once the 22 (Cindric) got up front, every time I got within a car length, I’d just push him farther forward,” said Moffitt.

The Burton brothers finished third and fourth respectively with Harrison in third and Jeb in fourth while AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top five in fifth.

Win Streaks Snapped..

JR Motorsports has been the top team in Xfinity Series action here in Daytona as of late. JRM entered the 2021 Speedweeks of winners in each of the last three years in this February race. They’ve also won four of the last six overall.

Justin Haley had picked up the pieces after in winning the final three superspeedway races in the series overall. Something had to give.

Both did.

JRM had good race cars and had a legitimate shot of putting one of their four drivers back in victory lane for the fourth consecutive season. But, the two big ones hurt those chances.

It all started on Lap 74.

Some of the Chevy leaders up front were going to hit pit lane to short pit the final stint. Unfortunately, some drivers behind didn’t get the memo. Chad Finchum plowed into the back of Michael Annett sparking a nine car melee in the tri-oval.

2019 winner Annett was done for the night then. So was last year’s winner Noah Gragson. That left only Justin Allgaier and Josh Berry for the final 40+ laps as half of their fleet were taken out in that one incident.

The other two were taken out in the Lap 104 “big one” when Ty Dillon and Daniel Hemric sparked a huge melee in Turn 3. Both Allgaier and Berry were collected to end JRM’s day with four crashed race cars. So was Haley too as five very good Chevrolet’s were taken out in crashes during this race.

Expensive Night For JGR Too

All four JRM cars were left on the hook, but they weren’t the only ones with expensive nights. Brandon Jones crashed hard at the end of Stage 2. Then, with 16 laps remaining, two more JGR cars sparked a 13 car melee when Ty Dillon and Daniel Hemric made contact with one another in Turn 3. Due to them being battling for third, it created a mess and a whole lot of damage for each.

Dillon, said that he was being pushed from behind too aggressively by Josh Berry and it forced him into the middle lane. Hemric, came down not knowing he was there because it all transpired so fast and the two came together.

Between JRM and JGR, that’s seven badly damaged race cars. Luckily for JRM, they had Burton finish runner-up.

Intensity From Crashes A Byproduct of Drivers Trying Too Hard For Future Rides?

Justin Allgaier wasn’t happy about being collected in the Lap 104 “Big One.” He says it was talented veteran drivers pushing too hard in wrong situations in what he feels were auditioning for a future ride.

“He wrecked the whole field,” Allgaier said. “He had to make a statement… Unfortunately, guys were trying to make moves—veterans who should know better—and making bad decisions.”

Ty Dillon saw it differently saying, “The 18 (Hemric) hit me so hard in the left rear, it drove me up the track,” said Dillon, who is racing in the Xfinity Series after four full seasons at the NASCAR Cup level.

See, I wrote about this in my Xfinity Series season preview about how there’s a lot of drivers in this series with a lot to prove in 2021.

This year, you have Myatt Snider who’s going to be 26 and taking over the full time ride at RCR again. That car won the 2019 championship with Tyler Reddick on the heels of six wins, 24 top fives and 27 top 10’s. That got Reddick a promotion. Matt Tifft a year prior, didn’t reach victory lane at all and only had six top five’s and 19 top 10’s. He wasn’t around a second year. Snider, who had two top fives and six top 10’s in 2020 needs to be somewhere between those two drivers’ years in the No. 2 Chevrolet this season.

Then you have someone like Riley Herbst. He didn’t win as a rookie at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2020 but did have 21 top 10’s. He’s taking over a car that Chase Briscoe had won nine times to go with 16 top fives and 22 top 10’s this past season. He also had a win, 13 top fives and 26 top 10’s in 2019 in it. Cole Custer had nine wins, 38 top fives and 69 top fives in three years in the No. 00 Ford at SHR. He was fifth, second and second in the three years in the final standings. Herbst, has the luxury of having both of those equipment all to himself as a single car team and has to win next year in that equipment or if not, he’s going to never really get a top Cup ride. If you can’t win with JGR or SHR on the NXS level, then who can you win with.

“I have to win races,” Herbst said when announced as the driver at SHR. “I have to be competitive. This car was the best car, week in and week out last year. That had a lot to do with Chase Briscoe. He’s in the Cup Series now, and a heck of a wheelman himself.

“But I know (crew chief) Richard Boswell and all the guys on the No. 98 team are really smart and know what they’re doing. They’re going to be bring me just-as-fast race cars as they did last year with Chase.

“It’s on me.”

Same for the guy replacing him with JGR. Daniel Hermic is 0-for-175 in his NASCAR career. He was solid in two full time seasons in NXS with RCR which earned him a promotion to Cup in 2019. Despite being the rookie of the year that season, he was let go for Reddick who won the 2019 NXS championship. That forced Hemric down to a part time role with JR Motorsports in 2020. Now, he’s full time with an organization that has produced 173 wins in NXS. If he can’t finally get over the hump and get to victory lane in 2021, when will he ever?

It’s also a similar situation for Jeb Burton with Kaulig. He’s taking over the No. 10 Chevrolet that had 15 top five finishes and 27 top 10’s with Ross Chastain last year. Burton, has six career top five finishes and six top 10’s in each of the last two years in NXS. He too has to prove to be a contender in that ride in 2021.

These guys are trying to prove they belong in top rides. What about drivers trying to get a chance to move up?

Noah Gragson is in his third year now at JRM. Not many guys get four years and still move up to a top Cup ride. Gragson went from no wins to two from 2019 to 2020. He also went from nine top fives to 17 and 22 top 10’s to 25. He led 72 laps in 2019 to 622 in 2020. He ended 2020 strong. What if his stats dip in 2021? He’s ascending and won’t be 23 until July. But, will some say he hit his ceiling if his stats do decline?

Same with Harrison Burton. After a tough season in Trucks in 2019, he got to still move up to NXS with JGR in 2020. Burton, won four times and had 27 top 10’s. He has to have a similar year in 2021. He’s going to want to move up soon as Christopher Bell and Erik Jones only spent two years in NXS before moving up to Cup rides. This is year No. 2 for Burton. Does he move up to a Cup seat in 2022? Depends on how he does in NXS. Bell and Jones both thrived in their second years.

That leaves Justin Haley. He’s trying to show everyone not to forget about him. He won three times in 2020 to go along with 10 top fives and 21 top 10’s. Haley, was third in the final standings.

But, with only a select few rides open in Cup each year now and those guys all above trying to show their worth, Haley can’t afford to have a quiet season or he may get overlooked.

Combine that with having to be aggressive, melees took place. Dillon and Hemric in put up or shut up drives for JGR this year were too aggressive with each other in Turn 3 and sparked that 13 car melee that took out Allgaier. There were others prior and after.

That’s a theme that we’re going to see a lot of in 2021. These drivers have to perform and when you have similar cars, you have to take advantage of restarts and being aggressive even if the timing isn’t right.

Stage Endings Were Phenomenal

Brandon Jones only led one lap in the first stage – the last one. He used a great move on Riley Herbst to beat the second year driver by just .004-seconds in the opening stage of 2021. The second stage saw Brett Moffitt narrowly hold off the field with a melee occurring behind.

Tri-Oval Saw A Lot Of Crash Damage

Josh Williams single handily brought up two of the first three cautions by himself. That, Alex Labbe spinning and a stage break were the only cautions until Lap 59. That’s when all hell broke loose.

The end of Stage 2 saw a scary crash in the tri-oval when Brandon Jones spun through the infield grass and came back up onto the banking at the exit of the tri-oval. Then we saw another big one in the tri-oval on Lap 74 when Chad Finchum didn’t know Michael Annett was going to pit with his teammate and ran him over sparking a nine car crash.

On Lap 113, there was another three car crash in the grass on the tri-oval tearing this portion of the track up.

Weather Cooperated

As hard as this would have been to believe this morning, not only did the ARCA season opener run to completion on schedule, so did the Xfinity Series one as well. The forecast all week has looked for this weekend to be a wet one here in Daytona. So far, we’ve lucked out.

There was a weather delay between the first and second Duels was the only race that was affected by mother nature so far. Friday night’s Truck Series race went flag to flag without any rain. So did both races today. But, if you would have told me this around 10 a.m. ET, I would have called you insane.

Heavy rain fell in the area just as the first of two scheduled Cup practices were set to begin. We got one lap in, then a red flag came out for a monsoon. The rest of the day looked bleak. Xfinity Series qualifying as well as Daytona 500 final practice was canceled.

Then, the skies cleared and allowed the track to dry. All that rain that was potentially going to come here this afternoon dissipated and away we went.

That makes me more optimistic about Sunday. There was an 80-percent chance of rain on Friday night and it never did. There was a 100-percent chance of rain forecasted this morning for 2 p.m. ET. It never rained.

We got lucky so far.

Top Stats

  • Since 2012, we’ve had nine different winners in the last 10 years of this event. Only Ryan Reed (2015, 2017) has reached Gatorade Victory Lane multiple times in that span.
Ever since the inception of electronic scoring in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 1996, close finishes of less than a second have been the norm at Daytona International Speedway.
Since 1996, the Xfinity Series has competed at Daytona 45 times. 33 of the races ended under green and all 33 finished with a margin of victory of less than a second; including the closest finish in NASCAR national series history (0.0004 second) in the 2018 Xfinity season opener.
Below are the last seven margins of victory in the season-opening race at Daytona:
Margin of Victory
Race Winner
Under Caution
Austin Cindric
Noah Gragson
Michael Annett
Brett Moffitt
Harrison Burton
Justin Allgaier
February 13, 2021
February 15, 2020
February 16, 2019
Tyler Reddick
Elliott Sadler
February 17, 2018
Ryan Reed
Kasey Kahne
February 25, 2017
Chase Elliott
Joey Logano
February 20, 2016
Ryan Reed
Chris Buescher
February 21, 2015

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