Austin Cindric powered his brand new NASCAR ride to victory in the 2022 Daytona 500, a perfect gift to celebrate team owner Roger Penske’s 85th birthday; Formula 1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve finished 22nd in his debut at the great race.
Cindric drove a masterful race at Daytona International Speedway and the Ford drivers synched their strategy all week, then executed their plan to perfection Sunday night. The blue oval drivers pushed each other over 500 miles and were bunched together for the final restart in overtime.
On the restart, Cindric led from the top lane and pulled out to a sizeable gap. He then ducked down to the bottom line in front of his Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney so that Blaney and Cindric could work together over the final two-lap sprint to the finish.
Blaney on the final lap made his move for the lead, and Bubba Wallace ducked low for his own look at the front. Cindric slid up to block Blaney, but still had to hold Wallace off in a drag race.
A crash behind them brought out the caution and Cindric was ruled the leader and the winner. It’s the first career Cup victory for the 23-year-old Cindric, who was promoted from the Xfinity Series to replace Brad Keselowski in the No. 2 Ford and run for NASCAR’s rookie of the year honors.
Wallace finished second for the second time in his career in the Daytona 500 and was followed by a trio of Ford drivers in Chase Briscoe, Blaney and Aric Almirola.
Kyle Busch was sixth to join Wallace as the only Toyota drivers in the top 10. Michael McDowell was seventh, followed by David Ragan and Keselowski, and finally Chase Elliott in the only Chevrolet to finish inside the top 10 in this edition of the Dyatona 500.
Rookie at the 500, Villeneuve impressed the establishment in his debut
1997 F1 World Champion Villeneuve may not have been able to deliver a fairytale finish to his late-career Daytona 500 debut on Sunday but impressed in navigating his way through a crash-filled race.
The 50-year-old Canadian, who had failed to qualify for the crown jewel of the NASCAR schedule in his only other attempt 14 years ago, finished 22nd in the season-opening race after having begun last in the 40-car starting lineup.
Villeneuve quickly fell one lap behind the early leaders and then, on lap 38, slid into a half spin without contact while entering the pits before quickly regaining control of his Ford Mustang.
From there, Villeneuve avoided a near catastrophe when he bumped into a spinning Chevrolet driven by Tyler Reddick, who lost control of his car due to a mechanical issue, and was able to carry on mostly among the top 30 racers.
“Well the checkered flag has flown here at Daytona 500, and we couldn’t be more proud of our guys. @27villeneuve brought it home P22, and even more importantly, has a clean racecar,” Reaume Brothers Racing, which prepares the cars for Villeneuve’s Netherlands-based Team Hezeberg, wrote on Twitter.
Villeneuve qualified on Wednesday when he posted the 36th-fastest lap in pole qualifying, which was enough to beat four of the other non-chartered entries and ensure his spot on the starting grid at Daytona International Speedway.
Villeneuve’s motorsports career is about as complete as it gets, but the winner of the 1997 Formula One championship and 1995 Indianapolis 500 said earlier this week qualifying for the Daytona 500 was “super high” among his all-time achievement ambitions. (Reporting by Lewis Franc
But the day and the 2022 Daytona 500 belonged and forever belongs to Cindric who gave his family another one of the crown jewel trophies in motorsports.
He’s the son of Tim Cindric, the president of Penske’s racing organization, and the maternal grandson of the late Jim Trueman, who fielded Bobby Rahal’s winning car in the 1986 Indianapolis 500. Trueman died of cancer less than a month later at age 51. (Additional reporting Reuters)