Daytona 500 Recap: The Rookie Delivers A Birthday Present to The Captain

      The Deuce is finally a Daytona 500 Champion.

But it wasn’t Rusty Wallace, Kurt Busch, or Brad Keselowski who brought it home. Throughout the pageantry and mayhem that defines The Great American Race, Roger Penske’s flagship car, the one that started it all in 1991, the number 2, had never won it. The 12 with Ryan Newman and the 22 with Joey Logano have, but not the 2, despite the legendary drivers who have sat behind the wheel. 

That all changed Sunday night as Austin Cindric, in his first full time NASCAR Cup Series Season, survived a hard charge from teammate Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace to get his first Cup victory in shocking fashion. Cindric and Blaney had dominated the late stages of the race, and after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Brad Keselowski got together with eight laps to go, they would line up side by side to settle it amongst each other in overtime. 

Cindric shot out in front of Blaney and dove in front of his teammate into turn one, but Blaney wasn’t done there. Coming to the checkered flag, Blaney jumped to the high side to make his final charge. Cindric wisely made the block and Blaney couldn’t hold on, sending him careening into the outside wall. Cindric’s move opened up the door for Bubba Wallace, but it was too late. 

Cindric crossed the line first as the field continued to pile up behind him, making him the first rookie to win the 500 since Trevor Bayne did it back in 2011. Cindric also left a pile of heartbreak in his wake, as Bubba was left to wonder what might have been. “What could’ve been right,” a dejected Bubba Wallace asked pit reporter Regan Smith. “Can’t thank everyone at 23XI enough for their hard work, I knew this was a big move for me to come out and be competitive and we’re showing it,” he added. 

Along Blaney and Wallace, several other drivers were left wondering what might have been. On lap 63, Brad Keselowski got into Harrison Burton and triggered the first massive pileup of the day, a crash which saw William Byron, Alex Bowman, Denny Hamlin and Burton all have to exit the race. Burton’s #21 Ford rolled over during the mess. 

“I don’t think he pushed me too much so much as it was in the wrong spot,” Burton said, referring to the contact with Keselowski. Keselowski was at the center of a few incidents during the race, but was in contention at the end. It had to be hard for him to watch a car he drove for so long win a race he has now tried thirteen times to win. 

Martin Truex Jr. won both stages before being caught up in an incident involving Tyler Reddick and Jaques Villeneuve with 50 laps to go. It was Truex’s eighteenth attempt. Ricky Stenhouse’s Daytona 500 story is even more heartbreaking. Stenhouse had been running near the front all race long, and looked poised for an upset. With six to go, Stenhouse was the leader following a crash that took out Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson. Brad Keselowski struck again however, pushing Stenhouse through the tri-oval into a spin that ended his Cinderella run. 

One of the biggest surprises coming out of the 500, was just how seemingly the Hendrick Motorsports camp were decimated throughout the race. As mentioned before, William Byron and Alex Bowman were showing a lot of speed before being caught up in the Lap 63 crash. Kyle Larson was showing never-before-seen superspeedway prowess before his day ended early. The only Hendrick driver to survive was Chase Elliott, and he even went spinning through the infield during the Stenhouse crash. Elliott was toward the front in classic Chase Elliott fashion at the end though, bringing the NAPA Chevrolet home in tenth. 

The 2022 Daytona 500 will go down in history as the beginning of a new era, with the Next Gen car having a pretty successful debut, despite some tire and wheel issues. Perhaps it’s fitting that the number 2 was the winner in 2022. “Oh my God, I’ve got so many people to thank, first and foremost Roger Penske, Happy Birthday,” an excited Cindric said in his post race interview. Yeah, Cindric won on Penske’s birthday. If that wasn’t enough for you in the irony department, Tim Cindric, Austin’s dad, is a high level executive at Penske. 

The number 2 wins on Roger Penske’s birthday in 2022. I’m not superstitious, but maybe, just maybe, it was just meant to be.

The Cup Series is back in action on Sunday, returning to the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California for the first time since 2020.

Photo Credit to @Team_Penske, the official Twitter account of Penske Racing

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