Austin Cindric celebrates after winning Saturday at Daytona Int'l Speedway. (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images photo)

Defending Champ Cindric Rules Wild Xfinity Opener

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Defending NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric held off Brett Moffitt in overtime to capture Saturday’s season-opening Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. 300 at Daytona Int’l Speedway.

Cindric, who led four times for a race-high 29 laps, wrested control of the race away from Harrison Burton on a restart with eight to go and controlled the proceedings the rest of the way.

The 22-year-old native of Mooresville, N.C., was pushed to the lead by A.J. Allmendinger at the start of the two-lap overtime period and blocked like a veteran for nearly four miles en route to the win.

Moffitt worked past Harrison Burton for second in turns three and four on the final lap, but couldn’t get enough of a run to pull alongside Cindric’s No. 22 Verizon 5G Ford Mustang to challenge.

That left Cindric alone out front by .104 seconds for his ninth career Xfinity Series win and second in a row, following the win at Arizona’s Phoenix Raceway last November that gave him the series title.

It was also Team Penske’s first-ever win on the 2.5-mile Daytona oval in Xfinity Series competition.

“What an awesome race,” Cindric said in victory lane. “What a really fast Verizon 5G Ford Mustang. That was an unbelievable effort by everyone at Team Penske. Obviously, we were coming off a lot of momentum from winning the championship last year, but nothing is guaranteed and, because of that, we just had to keep working hard.

“It feels great (to win on the Daytona oval for Team Penske). Our guys have brought us some extremely fast race cars,” Cindric added. “Forget who hasn’t been able to do it, because we’ve got some amazing drivers in our camp and tonight, I was just in the right place at the right time to get this Verizon 5G Ford Mustang in victory lane on the biggest stage in NASCAR.”

The run to the checkered flag was set up after the Big One occurred on lap 105, when Ty Dillon tried to shoot the middle to pass his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Daniel Hemric, and was turned in the pack.

Dillon’s spinning car sparked a 14-car melee in turns three and four, eliminating contenders like Riley Herbst, Josh Berry, Justin Allgaier and Justin Haley from contention for the victory.

Austin Cindric (22) leads the pack to the checkered flag at Daytona Int’l Speedway. (HHP/Jim Fluharty photo)

It left a reduced pack to take the green flag with eight laps left, led by Harrison Burton and Austin Cindric on the front row. Moffitt shoved Cindric to the lead on lap 113, but Jeb Burton hooked Landon Cassill into the outside wall in the tri-oval next time around – leading to the race-deciding overtime attempt.

Moffitt did all he could to make a run at Cindric on the final lap, but had nothing to work with and settled for second with the No. 02 Our Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro one night after crashing out of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series opener.

Asked if he could have done anything differently at the end, Moffitt’s answer was simple: “Start up front.”

At the end, the draft and the battle came down to track position, tipped the 2018 Truck Series titlist.

“With how few cars we had (left), the energy (and) runs weren’t huge, so you can only do so much,” Moffitt explained. “The 10 (Jeb Burton) did an awesome job pushing me. Thank you to him. But once the 22 (Cindric) got out front, any time I’d get within a car length of his bumper, I’d just push him further forward. I can’t thank everyone on this team enough, though. They’ve worked extremely hard to turn a very small team into a very successful team in a pretty short amount of time.

“I can’t wait for more and we’ll go on to the [Daytona] road course here next week and see what happens.”

Harrison Burton crossed the line third in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry, followed by the Kaulig Racing Chevrolet Camaros of Jeb Burton and Allmendinger.

Brandon Brown, Myatt Snider, Brandon Gdovic, Hemric and Jason White filled out the top 10.

Dillon came back from his involvement in the Big One for a 14th-place finish in JGR’s No. 54 Toyota.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series season continues Feb. 20 on Daytona’s 3.61-mile road course layout.

To view complete race results, advance to the next page.

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