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How Cindric's four-wide move defined a wild Atlanta NASCAR Cup race

No one was sure what to expect in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and after it was over, no one was sure they could believe it.

Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, BodyArmor Zero Sugar Ford Mustang Austin Cindric, Team Penske, Menards/Knauf Insulation Ford Mustang Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing, Freeway Insurance Chevrolet Camaro

Saturday’s 300-mile Xfinity Series race had been a mundane affair, featuring mostly single-file racing with drivers apparently unwilling to take risky moves for fear of losing track position. Numerous cars running out of fuel at the end set up a dramatic two-lap overtime and surprise winner, but that was hardly indicative of what much of the race had offered.

That’s why there were so many lingering questions entering Sunday’s 400-mile Cup race. However, a 16-car wreck on the second lap was a quick signal the Cup race would take a different – and far more dramatic – track.

The field remained mostly two-wide, and drivers traded the lead at head-spinning speed. The were risky blocks, and cars repeatedly banging off each other, or the outside wall.

The race ended in the most intense finish possible, with three cars racing side-by-side off Turn 4 on the final lap.

After a brief video review by NASCAR, Daniel Suarez was declared the winner over Ryan Blaney by a 0.003-second margin – the third-closest in series history. Kyle Busch was third, only 0.007s behind Suarez.

While the photo finish was remarkable and memorable, there was a moment earlier in Sunday’s race that offered the best hint of how this race would play out. As the race went into the final stage, Blaney’s Penske team-mate, Austin Cindric, developed into a serious contender for the win himself.

Daniel Suarez took victory for Trackhouse Racing in a dramatic three-wide finish

Daniel Suarez took victory for Trackhouse Racing in a dramatic three-wide finish

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

With 50 of 260 laps remaining, Cindric found himself behind three drivers racing three-wide for the lead.

With little hesitation, he drove his #2 Ford below all three on the frontstretch and entering Turn 1 to make it a four-wide battle – a sight few could remember seeing previously at the 1.54-mile track.

Cindric emerged as the leader from that daring pass, but couldn't remain out front for long. He ended up with a solid fourth place, just behind the trio who fought for the win.

 

“That was kind of cool, wasn’t it?” the 2022 Daytona 500 winner said. “I mean, four-wide at Atlanta, that doesn’t really work in the corners, it only works in the straights, but I had enough time to think about if it was a good idea and it was a good idea.

“I’m sure it looked cool and made for good pictures. Someone’s got to do it. I can promise you I’ll be the guy.”

The 32 laps led is career-best for Cindric in the NASCAR Cup and is just one lap shy of his total laps led for all of last season. Two races into the 2024 season, he has already matched his top-five total from last year.

While Cindric said he was confident in his ability to make the move at that moment to take the lead, he wondered if another big wreck was likely in the race when he saw the field continue to race four-wide even after he cleared for the lead.

Austin Cindric, Team Penske, Menards/Knauf Insulation Ford Mustang

Austin Cindric, Team Penske, Menards/Knauf Insulation Ford Mustang

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

“I had a big enough run that it didn’t last too long. I did look in my mirrors expecting them to wreck being four-wide for that many laps,” he said. “That is pretty impressive.

“What the viewer doesn’t understand is how difficult it is to follow at this track, especially when you have all that turbulent air coming out of the hood next to the other cars. That’s what got me at the end, honestly, guys just running close to me.

“It’s not easy to do, but I guess that’s why they call us the best in the world.”

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