WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Austin Cindric’s dad never wanted him to be a racer. Dad might want to change his mind now.
Cindric won on the road course at Watkins Glen in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series on Saturday, holding off veteran AJ Allmendinger in the final two laps. It was the first series win in 54 races for the 20-year-old Penske Racing driver, and he outran one of the best road racers in NASCAR.
"It’s fantastic. It means so much in the playoffs," Cindric said. "To be able to execute today, that’s what we need with six or seven races left before the playoffs. It’s a momentum shift. This team is used to winning."
Allmendinger moved out to a big lead with five laps left in the 82-lap event, but Cindric, with fresher tires in his No. 22 Ford, slowly began closing the gap and was within two car-lengths with three laps to go. He closed to the back bumper of Allmendinger’s No. 10 Chevy in the inner loop but Allmendinger held his ground.
On Lap 81, Cindric tried again to pass going up through the esses and dogged Allmendinger coming out of the carousel turn, a sweeping right-hander, then made the pass.
Not finished yet, Allmendinger bumped Cindric back, forcing him wide, and briefly retook the lead before going wide into the final turn, allowing Cindric to recover. He then made it through the tough first turn and up through the esses as Allmendinger finally faded, finishing 1.16 seconds behind.
Christopher Bell was third, Justin Allgaier fourth and Ryan Blaney fifth.
After the race, Allmendinger’s car failed postrace inspection and was disqualified for height. NASCAR said it didn’t meet the minimum height and said the team had until noon Monday to appeal. The car also was disqualified at Daytona in July with Allmendinger driving.
Kyle Busch won the pole, his first at The Glen in 11 tries in the series, with Cindric alongside on the front row, and the race was Busch’s to lose. After dominating the first stage, he lost his chance near the midpoint of the race around the speedy 2.45-mile natural terrain layout. Busch passed Cup regular Blaney for the lead in the inner loop on Lap 35, locked up his left front and slid off course, forcing him to the pits and then the garage, his day over with a broken part. In his previous four starts this year in the series, Busch had three wins and one runner-up finish.
"After they had their issues, we knew it was game on," Cindric said.
Busch led the entire 20-lap first stage and clearly had the best car in the field. But after he departed, Allmendinger, an ace on road courses his entire career with wins in the series at Mid-Ohio and Road America in 2013, took over and led 24 laps.
Allmendinger gained the lead over Cindric with Allgaier third on the final stage restart. Allgaier inherited the lead with just over 30 laps left when Allmendinger pitted for the final time barely inside his fuel window. He was just inside the top 20 when he rejoined the fray.
Like Busch earlier, Allmendinger made his way forward rapidly, passing Blaney for 10th on Lap 57, just behind Cindric, as Allgaier maintained the lead, and was fourth two laps later.
Allgaier pitted for the final time on Lap 63 with a lead of over 32 seconds and rejoined the field in sixth, 7 seconds behind with 19 laps to go.
Cody Ware shredded a tire on Lap 68, bringing out another caution and giving Allgaier a great chance with the fresher tires. But Blaney, Briscoe, and Cindric were among those who pitted for tires and fuel during the caution as Allmendinger and Allgaier stayed out.
"I think it (tires) made all the difference," Allmendinger said. "I think we were pretty close on speed. He went in there and nudged me. I nudged him. He deserved it."
Cindric restarted ninth behind Allmendinger and Bell on the front row with 10 laps to go. Allmendinger went wide into the first turn on the restart and took the lead again as a big pileup ensued behind them and brought out the final caution.
Cindric managed to avoid the carnage to stay in the hunt and moved into second after the final restart when Allgaier bulled his way through the middle, sending Bell spinning to the side.