AVONDALE, Ariz. – Austin Cindric dominated Saturday’s Call 811 Before You Dig 200 at Phoenix Raceway, but he had to survive a late-race restart before taking home the trophy.
Cindric fended off a charge on the outside by Justin Allgaier, and then a last-corner effort from rookie Ty Gibbs, en route to winning at the one-mile desert oval for the second race in a row.
The reigning NASCAR Xfinity Series champion took the checkered flag in November at Phoenix to capture the title, and four months later, picked up right where he left off.
Cindric led four times for 119 of 200 laps, including the first 50 rotations en route to winning the first stage and banking an extra playoff point toward his postseason tally.
However, Cindric’s No. 22 Ford Mustang shone during the final stage, leading 69 of the final 72 laps for his 10th career Xfinity Series triumph and second in five races this season.
It wasn’t as easy as the box score made it appear, however.
After contact between Alex Labbe and Josh Williams sent Labbe into the outside wall to bring out the last of 11 caution flags with nine laps remaining, Cindric geared up for a pivotal restart at the end of regulation.
He chose the outside, flanked low by Joe Gibbs Racing’s Daniel Hemric, and got an impressive launch when the green flag waved on lap 199 as Hemric spun the tires and faded quickly.
At that point, Allgaier got to Cindric’s outside going into turn one off the exit of the dogleg, but slapped the wall exiting turn two as even more chaos erupted further back in the pack.
Cindric escaped unscathed, however, in somewhat of the inverse of his championship-winning restart from last fall at Phoenix.
“I think it was a role-reversal from the last time here,” noted Cindric of the final restart. “He (Allgaier) got a really great restart and stuck it on top of three (wide) there and we were all fighting for track position. Luckily, we came away with a win in the Car Shop Ford Mustang. It is awesome to have them on board for this season and get the pink and white colors in victory lane.
“Justin just got a really great launch. I think he anticipated the restart really well and got to my outside,” continued Cindric. “He faked low and went high and had some momentum that was hard to block. I was trying to defend the bottom, middle and top. I got the air sucked off my door a little bit. It was just hard racing a little bit there. It sucks that he got into the wall there because I think we were going to have a good race to the end there.
“I don’t think [short-run] speed was our strength, so I definitely got a little fortunate there.”
Gibbs snuck through on the inside to take over second after Allgaier’s date with the wall coming onto the backstretch, sizing up Cindric at the white flag in an effort to win his second Xfinity Series race in as many starts – as well as his second race of the weekend after Friday’s ARCA Menards Series victory.
The 18-year-old pitched his No. 54 Toyota Supra to the bottom of turns three and four coming to the checkered flag, but didn’t have enough to get to Cindric’s bumper and challenge for the trophy.
“I was too far (back) to bump the 22 (Cindric), but it was a fun time,” noted Gibbs. “It was a learning experience more than anything. I’m just learning how these things race on the ovals, but I’m very thankful to be here. I wouldn’t wreck him to win; I don’t want to race like that. Just one spot short.”
Brandon Brown crossed the line a career-best third, followed by Riley Herbst in fourth and Las Vegas winner A.J. Allmendinger in fifth.
Jeb Burton, Bayley Currey, Allgaier, Brett Moffitt and Jeremy Clements filled out the top 10.
“Just disappointing there,’’ said Allgaier, who led 32 laps Saturday, of his eighth-place finish. “Once we got to his outside, I thought we had it, but he just got me out of the PJ1 and into the marbles … and unfortunately it all comes up quick when you’re bumped out of the PJ1.
“I’m so proud of everyone at JR Motorsports,’’ he continued. “I learned a lot I think for when we come back here in the fall and, hopefully, we’re in the Championship 4 with a shot at the title.”
Hemric limped across the finish line in 23rd, but maintains the runner-up position in driver points behind Cindric, who extended his early championship lead to 47 points through five races.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series season continues March 20 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with the running of the EchoPark 250. Allmendinger is the defending winner of the event at the 1.54-mile quad-oval.