LONG POND, Pa. – A race that started with a case of yellow fever Sunday afternoon turned into a strategy war that went the way of defending NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric.
Cindric, the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang, didn’t take the lead for the first time in the Pocono Green 225 at Pocono Raceway until just after the halfway point, but once he did there was no one better.
The Mooresville, N.C., native led three times for 26 of the final 45 laps en route to his series-leading fourth Xfinity Series win of the year and the 12th of his still-young career.
“You have to be good at everything and that is what this team has proven throughout the year,” said Cindric. “I am just the one that gets to drive these Ford Mustangs. I am excited about it. I had to execute in every facet and we had everything thrown at us today. I am super proud of this Car Shop Ford Mustang team and everybody who partners up with us. To finally get one here is really cool.
“Ever since I came here in ARCA, it felt like this one always got away from me, so I am really excited.”
Cindric took control of the race for the first time at lap 46, when Ty Gibbs washed up the track and opened the door for Cindric to pass on the inside for the top spot.
A crash one lap later, when Riley Herbst backed into the outside wall, set up a restart where Cindric had to fend off the competition before a final cycle of green-flag pit stops took place inside of 35 to go.
Cindric made his final stop on lap 57 of 90, patiently working his way back forward as cars pitted one by one after him before retaking the point for good with 16 laps left and leading the rest of the way.
He wasn’t on cruise control at the end, however, as lapped traffic broke Cindric’s momentum inside the final two laps and allowed Gibbs to charge from three seconds back to just .331 seconds behind at the checkered flag.
“We gave him a chance, didn’t we? We had to make it exciting, I guess,” Cindric noted. “I didn’t want it but I guess everybody else did. We will take it, though, and we will take the trophy for sure.”
Notably, Sunday’s victory made Cindric the second-youngest driver in Xfinity Series history to earn 12 career victories, at 22 years, nine months and 25 days old. Only Joey Logano, at 21, was younger.
Gibbs’ runner-up marked the fourth time in his eight career Xfinity Series starts that the 18-year-old has finished either first or second with Cindric.
It’s a positive statement, but Gibbs was focused on lessons learned afterward Sunday.
“[I was] just pushing as much as I can. It feels good to leave everything in the race car,” said Gibbs. “Just trying my hardest. I made some mistakes. I think I could have maybe crossed him [Cindric] over a little bit better. Lapped cars helped me. They were kind of in the way. Overall, though, just a good day.”
Gibbs won the second stage and led 11 laps en route to his seventh top-five finish in eight races.
JR Motorsports drivers Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson ran third and fourth, respectively, with Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger placing fifth.
Daniel Hemric rallied to sixth after two speeding penalties – including one under green during his final pit stop – that scuttled his chances at victory with one of the fastest cars on the race track all day long.
Six yellows and one red flag slowed the pace in the first 49 laps, but the final 41 laps ran caution-free.
Of those incidents, the biggest was when rookie Sam Mayer tagged the outside wall exiting turn one on a lap-25 restart and hooked Justin Haley’s Chevrolet around when he came off the SAFER Barrier.
Haley’s car then spun down the track and made heavy contact with the inside wall before bouncing back into traffic and being slammed into by Ryan Vargas’ oncoming JD Motorsports Chevrolet.
Both Haley and Vargas were uninjured, but the accident led Haley to sit out the NASCAR Cup Series race following the Xfinity Series event. Allgaier was tabbed by Spire Motorsports to relieve Haley.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series season continues July 3 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.