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Mustang-Driving Rookie Wins Daytona 500

The driver of Team Penske's Number 2 Mustang, a rookie at Daytona, battled throughout the 500-miler and only pulled out a win on the last corner of the race. The winning margin was .036 seconds, one of the closest finishes on record.
Posted: February 23, 2022 - 7:27PM
Author: Marc Stern

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It all came down to the last lap. Austin Cindric was able to fend off three challengers with his Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney. Blaney drafted cars ahead of Cindric, enabling the Daytona 500 rookie to a thrilling win.

First Time Driver Wins Daytona in Mustang

With his win on Sunday, Cindric has become the ninth driver to race his way to his first career NASCAR Cup Series win. His win in The Great American Race was certainly dramatic as the rookie was pushed into the clear – away from Brad Keselowski, running on the outside. Once in the clear, Cindric blocked Blaney, cutting to the outside on the last corner. Meantime, Cindric ran ahead of Bubba Wallace, who was charging toward the finish line, beating Wallace in the final seconds. Cindric drove the Team Penske Number 2 Ford Mustang to victory.

This isn't Ford's first racing victory this year as racing Bronco's took on the King of the Hammers competition and were successful.

As noted, Cindric’s name joins eight other drivers who notched their first victory at the Florida classic. The other drivers include:

  • Tiny Lund, 1963
  • Mario Andretti, 1967
  • Pete Hamilton, 1970
  • Derrike Cope, 1990
  • Sterling Marlin, 1994
  • Michael Waltrip, 2001
  • Trevor Bayne, 2011
  • Michael McDowell, 2021

Cindric was the second driver in a row this year to score his first victory at the 500-mile event.

It wasn't the first time Cindric was involved in the last lap clash. According to Fox Sports, the last time Cindric ran in a NASCAR event, he was the loser of a Turn 4 joust. It was close, but Cindric lost to Daniel Hemric in a photo finish in an Xfinity Series race at Phoenix.

Driver Excited By Finish

This time, though, it was a different story as Cindric was the leader in the last turn, a position he kept right to the finish line.

An enthusiastic Cindric told Fox Sports that "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."

Wallace nearly beat the rookie driver as the timer put Cindric's margin of victory at .036 seconds. His win was the fourth-closest finish in Daytona history. Putting this into perspective, the .036-second margin is the third closest in the electronic timing era, which began for NASCAR in 1993.

Cindric's victory in Team Penske's Number 2 Ford Mustang was by no means guaranteed. Driving in Penske's Number 2 Mustang put some very impressive muscle behind the rookie's effort in the Xfinity Series. Of course, you would expect Cindric to be a winner with Team Penske's backing. However, some were surprised by the rookie's victory at Daytona. By the way, his victory puts Cindric in the lead for Rookie of the Year. Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland, who was in the running, both cracked up, putting them out of the race and hurting their chances at the rookie of the Year honors.

With Daytona in the record books, the NASCAR Cup Series turns west as it makes its West Coast swing. The West Coast tour begins with the Wise Power 400 at Fontana, Calif.'s Auto Club Speedway. The race marks a return to the track in Fontana. Due to California's COVID restrictions, the Auto Club Speedway didn't host a race in 2021.

Top 10 Finishers

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

Photo Courtesy Ford Motor Co.

Marc Stern has been an automotive writer since 1971 when an otherwise normal news editor said, "You're our new car editor," and dumped about 27 pounds of auto stuff on my desk. I was in heaven as I have been a gearhead from my early days. As a teen, I spent the usual number of misspent hours hanging out at gas stations Shell and Texaco (a big thing in my youth) and working on cars. From there on, it was a straight line to my first column for the paper, "You Auto Know," an enterprise that I handled faithfully for 32 years. Not many people know that I also handled computer documentation for a good part of my living while writing YAN. My best writing, though, was always in cars. My work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, AutoWeek, SuperStock, Trailer Life, Old Cars Weekly, Special Interest Autos, etc. You can follow me on: Twitter or Facebook.

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