Cindric returns to Daytona to defend his Daytona 500 crown, how he’ll enter rare air if he does

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Austin Cindric is back in Daytona. Well, he’s actually recently been back. He just took part in January’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. That race was all in good fun for 24-year-old driver. He moonlighted in an IMSA car for Rick Ware Racing. This time, he’s here in Daytona Beach for his real job – a NASCAR driver.

Last year, Cindric left Daytona Speedweeks speechless. He took his No. 2 Ford to victory lane in NASCAR’s version of their Super Bowl.

That feat is one that shocked even Cindric. The Rolex this past year was via fifth foray into the annual twice around the clock event. He felt like he’d would have won a Rolex before he won the Daytona 500.

Now, the Team Penske driver returns to Daytona International Speedway as the defending DAYTONA 500 winner and this weekend will look to add his name to the list of multiple Great American Race winners. If he does win this weekend, he will join Sterling Marlin (1994, 1995) as just the second driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to score their first two wins in the DAYTONA 500.

Last season’s DAYTONA 500 victory was Cindric’s first career NASCAR Cup Series win, and in doing so, he became the first rookie in series history to win the event.

Can he repeat?

Cindric was actually a really good driver on superspeedways a year ago. He finished third here in the annual summer race in August while also scoring a ninth placed run in the Fall Talladega race.

If he can win, he’ll also win for a third straight year during Speedweeks with Cindric also taking home the victory in the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series season opener as well.

While it may sound like a first-time winner is a rare feat, it’s not as rare as it sounds at Daytona.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 20: Austin Cindric, driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 20, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

They say you always remember the ‘first-time’ and Daytona International Speedway has been known for making memories that last in the NASCAR Cup Series.

In total 17 different drivers have scored their first NASCAR Cup Series career pole at Daytona International Speedway and 23 different drivers have won their first race in the NASCAR Cup Series at the 2.5-mile track.

Daytona International Speedway has seen a first-time winner in at least one of its NASCAR Cup Series races in the last five consecutive seasons (2018-2022).

First Time Pole WinnersSeasonFirst Time Race WinnersSeason
William Byron2019Austin Cindric2022
Chase Elliott2016Michael McDowell2021
Austin Dillon2014William Byron2020
Danica Patrick2013Justin Haley2019
Paul Menard2008Erik Jones2018
Greg Biffle2004Aric Almirola2014
Jimmie Johnson2002David Ragan2011
Kevin Harvick2002Trevor Bayne2011
Mike Skinner1997Greg Biffle2003
Dale Jarrett1995Michael Waltrip2001
Loy Allen Jr1994John Andretti1997
Sterling Marlin1991Jimmy Spencer1994
Greg Sacks1990Sterling Marlin1994
Geoff Bodine1982Derrike Cope1990
Ramo Stott1976Greg Sacks1985
Charlie Glotzbach1968Pete Hamilton1970
Darel Dieringer1964Mario Andretti1967
  Earl Balmer1966
 Sam McQuagg1966
  A.J. Foyt1964
  Bobby Isaac1964
  Johnny Rutherford1963
  Tiny Lund1963

Of the 64 DAYTONA 500 races in the books, nine times a driver has posted his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory with a win in the event; the most recent to accomplish the feat was Team Penske’s Austin Cindric last season.

First-Time Winners in DAYTONA 500Seasons
Tiny Lund1963
Mario Andretti1967
Pete Hamilton1970
Derrike Cope1990
Sterling Marlin1994
Michael Waltrip2001
Trevor Bayne2011
Michael McDowell2021
Austin Cindric2022

Three other drivers posted their career-first NASCAR Cup Series victory in (points-paying) qualifying races at Daytona: Johnny Rutherford (1963), Bobby Isaac (1964) and Earl Balmer (1966).

Looking at the entry list for this season’s DAYTONA 500, 15 drivers will be attempting to earn their first series win this weekend – Harrison Burton, Conor Daly, Ty Dillon, Ty Gibbs, Todd Gilliland, Noah Gragson, Riley Herbst, Austin Hill, Corey Lajoie, B.J. McLeod, Travis Pastrana, Ryan Preece, Chandler Smith, Zane Smith, and Cody Ware.

You also on the flipside have someone like Denny Hamlin who’s attempting to win his fourth.

If Joe Gibbs Racing’s Hamlin (2016, 2019, 2020) wins Sunday’s DAYTONA 500, then he will tie NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough (1968, 1977, 1983, 1984) for the second-most DAYTONA 500 victories all-time with four each.

Only six drivers all-time in the NASCAR Cup Series have scored three or more DAYTONA 500 victories, led by NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty with seven wins in the Great American Race (1964, 1966, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1981); followed by Cale Yarborough (1968, 1977, 1983, 1984), Bobby Allison (1978, 1982, 1988), Dale Jarrett (1993, 1996, 2000), Jeff Gordon (1997, 1999, 2005) and Denny Hamlin (2016, 2019, 2020).

Legacy Motor Club’s driver Jimmie Johnson can become the seventh driver to win three DAYTONA 500s this weekend too. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, has two DAYTONA 500 wins to his name, hoisting the trophies in 2006 and 2013.

Defending series champion, Joey Logano, is eyeing his second.

Logano has the opportunity to become just the sixth different driver in series history to win the DAYTONA 500 as the defending series champion.

Five reigning NASCAR Cup Series champions have gone on to win the DAYTONA 500 the season after winning the championship – all now NASCAR Hall of Famers: Lee Petty (1959), Richard Petty (1973), Cale Yarborough (1977), Jeff Gordon (1999) and Dale Jarrett (2000).

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