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Austin Cindric’s Surprise Win Blows up Playoff Race

#2: Austin Cindric, Team Penske, Freightliner Ford Mustang celebrates his win

If you thought that the race to the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs was getting too predictable, Sunday’s (June 2) race at World Wide Technology Raceway provided an unexpected twist.

This time, it was not a superspeedway or road course that shook up the points standings, but a flat track in its third year on the Cup Series schedule. The winner was Austin Cindric, snapping an 85-race winless streak just when it looked like teammate Ryan Blaney had secured the victory.

Prior to Sunday’s race, Cindric had little reason to believe that he was going to make the playoffs. Sitting 20th in overall points, 96 below the cut line for the postseason, and without a top-10 finish since the second race of the year, he would have needed a huge turnaround to reach the postseason on points. But the No. 2 team had two important things going for it at Gateway – a fast car and good fortune.

Cindric capitalized perfectly on both.

The fast car was not a complete surprise. Team Penske has been very strong on flat tracks over the last few years and it was no shock to see all three of its drivers near the front of the pack at Gateway. The bigger surprise was how Cindric outpaced and outlasted Blaney and Joey Logano, his teammates and the two most recent champions of the Cup Series.

Cindric led laps during the third stage but lost ground to Blaney after the two made their final pit stop. Cindric also faced a challenge from Christopher Bell, who dominated the earlier stages and was marching his way through the field. Once Bell rocketed past the No. 2 and set his sights on Blaney, it looked like Cindric’s shot to win the race was gone.

However, Cindric’s good fortune kicked in during the last 20 laps. Just as Bell looked like he was getting ready to pass Blaney, he dropped off the pace and radioed to his team that the engine was failing. Bell managed to make it to the finish of the race and even scored a top 10, but that was little comfort after seeing a possible win slip away.

The end of the race for Blaney was even more heartbreaking. With the white flag in sight, the No. 12 suddenly ran out of fuel, allowing Cindric to close a two-second lead and make the decisive pass. Blaney was forced to coast around the track during the final lap, ultimately falling to 24th place.

The obvious question to ask is why did Blaney run out of fuel when nobody else did, including either of his Penske teammates? The No. 12 made its final stop one lap…

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