WATKINS GLEN — The most exciting races are the ones that go down to the wire, and that’s exactly what NASCAR fans were treated to on Saturday at Watkins Glen International.
Team Penske’s Austin Cindric passed Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger on the final lap to claim the checkered flag at the Xfinity Zippo 200.
It is Cindric’s first NASCAR Xfinity Series win.
“First of all, A.J. is a hell of a racer,” Cindric said inside victory lane, “So I knew it wasn’t going to be easy even if we got there with way newer tires. I’m just so blessed and appreciative of this kind of an opportunity at this stage racing these types of cars and I hope this is the first of many.”
Both Cindric and Allmendinger were neck and neck for much of the race and Allmendinger led more laps than anyone else with 24 — setting up a wild conclusion in a race that saw nine lead changes among six different drivers.
Cindric crossed the finish line 1.168 seconds before Allmendinger, who crossed second. But after a post-race inspection, Allmendinger was disqualified because the car didn’t meet rear minimum height. It is Allmendinger’s second disqualification this season.
“The finish was pretty wild,” crew chief Brian Wilson said in a post-race press conference. “For me the biggest part was that pit call. That goes back to some homework that Austin and I did throughout the weeks. We had that scenario in my [mind] when the caution came out, and we wanted to pit there.
“When he came on the radio and asked if that’s the scenario we were in, we were both on the same page. He sounded very confident that he wanted tires. I don’t know if it would’ve worked out if the guys got sideways in the S’s, and then it did so it was a good day.”
In the early stages of the race it appeared as if Kyle Busch was going to win the race, as he took stage one of the 82-lap road course.
“We knew coming into today, especially after qualifying, that it was gonna be really tough to beat Kyle Busch,” Cindric added. “He had seven-tenths on the field in qualifying and I was scratching my head where to find that.”
Despite having to have his crew members walk the car into victory lane after he burnt out his clutch celebrating, Cindric still was ecstatic after the win.
“I kind of felt like Rocky for a minute,” he said with a laugh, “but a little more pathetic because my car didn’t work. It was cool I guess and to be able to give high-fives to the fans ... but I didn’t know why my clutch burned out like it did. I’ve done burnouts before — some have been more successful than others.
“I didn’t even get going so I guess that was unique and maybe I’m just not going to do burnouts when I win. It was definitely a unique way to experience it. I feel bad for my guys having to push the car all the way back from the front straightaway, but they’re a great group.”
All in all, 28 out of 37 drivers finished the race and 24 of them finished on the lead lap.