NASCAR Barometer: Cindric Triumphs at Daytona

NASCAR Barometer: Cindric Triumphs at Daytona

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season took the green flag with Sunday's Daytona 500 in front of a sell-out crowd. The new car promised many unknowns for fans to keep track of as the laps unfolded, too. Ford appeared to have the edge in the draft, but Toyota joined them at the front early in the running. As the typical Daytona attrition took contenders out of the picture, Austin Cindric, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski rose to the top and tried to stake their claim. A late crash set up a final overtime restart where Team Penske teammates Blaney and Cindric pushed their way out front. However, the race win remained up for grabs as multiple cars had strong runs off of the final turn. Cindric deflected them all as he drove his first Cup Series victory by half a car length over Bubba Wallace. Seven Fords filled out the top 10 Sunday as Cindric and his Penske team celebrated in Victory Lane.

The series heads back out West to Auto Club Speedway this week for the first visit to the track since 2020. The 2.0-mile D-shaped oval will give a better representation of where teams stand relative to the competition, though some questions about the new car and true pecking order could still remain considering the series hasn't raced at the track for two years. It is the first of a three-race stretch of West Coast stops before teams head back East as the season just starts

The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season took the green flag with Sunday's Daytona 500 in front of a sell-out crowd. The new car promised many unknowns for fans to keep track of as the laps unfolded, too. Ford appeared to have the edge in the draft, but Toyota joined them at the front early in the running. As the typical Daytona attrition took contenders out of the picture, Austin Cindric, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski rose to the top and tried to stake their claim. A late crash set up a final overtime restart where Team Penske teammates Blaney and Cindric pushed their way out front. However, the race win remained up for grabs as multiple cars had strong runs off of the final turn. Cindric deflected them all as he drove his first Cup Series victory by half a car length over Bubba Wallace. Seven Fords filled out the top 10 Sunday as Cindric and his Penske team celebrated in Victory Lane.

The series heads back out West to Auto Club Speedway this week for the first visit to the track since 2020. The 2.0-mile D-shaped oval will give a better representation of where teams stand relative to the competition, though some questions about the new car and true pecking order could still remain considering the series hasn't raced at the track for two years. It is the first of a three-race stretch of West Coast stops before teams head back East as the season just starts to get going.

UPGRADE

Austin Cindric – After making a handful of series starts last season in preparation for a full-time switch to the No. 2 Team Penske Ford in 2022, Cindric got his maiden season in the Cup Series off to the perfect start. The former Xfinity Series champion rode at the front of the field nearly the entire afternoon and made zero mistakes on his way to holding off teammate Blaney and second-place finisher Wallace to score his first series victory on the biggest stage possible. With his win, he has the rest of the season to continue gaining experience knowing he'll have his first shot at the playoffs as well. He has three Xfinity starts at Auto Club Speedway with a best finish of third in 2020. 

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex got the push he needed to drop into the front of the bottom lane and take the lead just a lap or two before the first big crash of the day brought out the yellow flag and ended the first stage of Sunday's Daytona 500. He then took advantage of Joey Logano leaving Brad Keselowski to get a run right at the line that gave him the second stage as well. A late crash put Truex out of position to sweep the day with a race win, but he did manage to stay on track and finish 13th. The bonus points from the stage victories will be helpful in the year-end playoffs, but Sunday's result was another superspeedway near miss as he continues searching for his first Daytona 500 win. Truex has one prior win at Fontana  from 2018. He has seven top-10s from 20 starts at the track.

Bubba Wallace – Wallace scored his first series victory last season at Talladega in a rain-shortened race. Fantasy players have known that Wallace is a great option on superspeedways for some time prior to that, though. He rose to those expectations again Sunday at Daytona. Wallace piloted his car confidently at the front of the field and avoided all of the crashes that could have ruined his afternoon. As the race went into overtime, Wallace found himself with a shot at the win as he chased Cindric to the finish line but came up just a few feet short. Fantasy players shouldn't expect that type of result from him this week at Auto Club Speedway, where his best series finish was 20th in 2018, but his performance on Sunday shows he will be a contender at Daytona and Talladega later this season.

Kyle Busch – Busch may not have left Daytona with the trophy he most desires, but his showing will leave him optimistic about his chances for the rest of the season. His Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was awfully quiet throughout the weekend as Chevrolet took the pole and Ford grabbed the qualifying race wins. Once the race was underway it was the Toyotas that moved forward, though. Busch led that train for some time, becoming the driver with the most laps led in the Daytona 500 without a win in the process. Unfortunately, he was one of the cars affected in the first big crash of the day, though. That damage stunted his ability to lead, but he and the team dug deep and kept the car in position to capitalize if luck fell their way. It did, and Busch limited the damage with a sixth-place finish to start the season.

Ryan Blaney – The Team Penske drivers appeared to be the top contenders for Sunday's Daytona 500 win, and Blaney might have even been the quiet favorite among them. Things almost came unraveled early on, as a rear lug caused the team trouble and forced a lengthy visit to pit road. Blaney recovered quickly, however, and was right back at the front of the field not too much later. He held station inside the top five the rest of the afternoon and found himself with a chance at the win on the final lap with only teammate Cindric to beat. Blaney's run off of the final turn wasn't enough to overcome Cindric's block, and Blaney settled for a fourth-place finish. Fantasy players should take notice as Blaney's pace last season suggests he could be a championship contender in 2022. 

DOWNGRADE

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin was an innocent bystander in the first big crash of Sunday's Daytona 500. Harrison Burton lost control after a big push from Keselowski, which caused everyone at the front to check up. Hamlin found himself the middle of a sandwich in the inside lane and quickly out of the Daytona 500 with damage. It is a long season, though, and Hamlin is one of the best. He makes a return to Auto Club Speedway next weekend where he has never visited Victory Lane. His best finish at the southern California oval is a pair of third-place finishes. He finished sixth in the in his last visit to the circuit in 2020.

Tyler Reddick – Things were going well for Reddick until he lost control coming off of the turn to the front straight. Contact from Jacques Villeneuve behind caused him to completely lose control and turn into the outside fence. It was a disappointing end for Reddick, who showed promise for the 2022 season with a strong outing in the Clash. Reddick has just one series start at Fontana. He finished 11th after starting 19th in 2020. Despite Reddick's premature dismissal from the Daytona 500, he remains one of the drivers fantasy players should look out for this season. Richard Childress Racing should have the legs to take a step forward with the new car as this season rolls onward.

Erik Jones – There aren't many circuits where Jones and his Richard Petty Motorsports team can be on relatively equal footing with the bigger organizations. Daytona is one of those spots, and the team need to take advantage of those opportunities. Jones was doing just that through much of Sunday's Daytona 500. He led three laps and was in position to battle for the win before being caught in a crash late in the running that put him out of the race just 10 laps short of the finish. The car's speed in the race should be a boost to the team as they continue to build their capabilities, but fantasy owners will not want to expect the same level of performance this week at Fontana. Jones has four series starts at the track with two top-10 finishes when he was at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Alex Bowman – Much was expected from the Hendrick Motorsports team, as Bowman and Kyle Larson put their cars atop the field in single-car qualifying. Once the pack racing got underway, it was clear that their speed wasn't the best in the draft, however. Chase Elliott was the only Chevrolet to finish in the top 10, while teammate Bowman's front-row start ended in heartache with crash damage. He and the team made repairs and kept Bowman in the race, ending the day three laps behind in 24th. Last season, Bowman had an inconsistent year but positioned himself to grab race wins when the chance presented itself. After one week, it appears as though he may be able to play a similar role in 2022. He is a prior winner at Fontana after leading 110 of 200 laps in 2020.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Brad Keselowski – While Roush Fenway Racing showed competitiveness at times last season it still seemed like a stretch for Keselowski to jump into a new team with ownership responsibilities and be a contender out of the gate. However, he proved that theory wrong right away with a win in his qualifying race and teammate Chris Buescher doing the same in his. Those victories put the pair among the favorites to win it all on Sunday. Keselowski held position inside the top five most of the race distance with top-five finishes in both stages. He navigated his way to the final lap with a shot at the win, too. It will be interesting to see how the team fares at a track like Fontana this week. If they show speed again, fantasy players should expect them to remain competitive through the rest of the season, too.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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