Race Weekend Central

Spin Through Grass Foils Daytona 500 Dreams for Ross Chastain, Austin Cindric

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s the biggest event in stock car racing, and the white flag is waving in the air. What move would you make to win?

For Ross Chastain, his plan was simple. He had a full head of steam on the outside line when William Byron went up to block. Not wanting to lose his momentum and lose a chance at Daytona 500, Chastain turned to the left in an attempt to go around the No. 24.

But just as he made his move, Corey LaJoie got into the back of Austin Cindric, which shot the No. 2 up at the same moment the No. 1 was moving down. The two spun through the infield grass and brought out a caution that allowed Byron to win his first Daytona 500 under caution.

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Chastain’s move to win the race may not have worked, but he had no regrets.

“I saw the white flag of the Daytona 500 and we were crossing it with a run on the leader,” Chastain said. “Flashbacks of the Duels with the No. 24 (Byron) getting turned right there. If I try to push him, if I lift, I don’t take my momentum. And I obviously should have lifted, but I just turned left and tried to win the Daytona 500.”

And despite the heartbreak of a Daytona 500 win slipping out of fingertips, Chastain was at peace with how the run to the white flag went down.

“I am [content],” Chastain said. “I mean, to learn the fuel savings game and really get aggressive and match these guys so that we can that hit when we need to. I’ve burned up too much fuel in the past couple of races, and to put ourselves in a position on the final pit stop and to come out with the lead, cover the other OEMs when they caught up to us and just work with some legends of the sport and to have control of the race there at the end. …

“I really do feel content. It’s weird to say it, but we did everything right and I just was too aggressive with my turn left and should’ve just waited maybe longer.”

He also had nothing but praise for Byron’s victory, which marked back-to-back victories in the Daytona 500 for Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports’ first Daytona 500 victory since 2014.

“Happy for Willliam and Chevy and General Motors to win,” he said. “It was really, really awesome for us to control some of these pit cycles, really kick their butt. So that was really cool. And then to have a bunch of Chevys left at the end there made me feel good.”

When asked about what experiences he would take from this 500 to apply to next year, Chastain admitted that he might need to have more patience if a move isn’t there.

“I can’t go past the obvious of just coming to the white and I have the run,” Chastain said. “If there’s not a clear lane to the bottom, I probably do need to wait. I just wanted to go through that middle. William faded up and was covering, and I just didn’t want to turn him. That was the last thing I wanted to do. …

“I didn’t know if I could, and I just took the gap. And I don’t apologize for that. I can go to sleep at night knowing that I took the white flag making the move to win the Daytona 500.”

Cindric came out of the care center after Chastain, and the two had a cordial conversation while waiting for post-race media availabilities. Cindric appeared to tell Chastain about the bump he received from LaJoie that shot him up the track, to which Chastain reacted with surprise.

“Me getting wrecked there, [Ross] didn’t see that,” Cindric said. “So yeah, it’s a really unfortunate end. Shot to win the Daytona 500, really in a great position with the outside lane breaking up and kind of one-on-one with the No. 24 with the whole pack behind. So, I can’t really ask for anything else other than that, out of myself and the team. But yeah, it sucks.”

Cindric then expressed his displeasure with LaJoie for the bump that pinballed the No. 2 car into Chastain.

“I mean, Corey finished fourth, so congrats,” Cindric said. “I mean, he tried to fit a car where there wasn’t a car and just continued to push through my left rear until I wrecked. I understand trying to shuck me out or put up an opportunity because I wasn’t probably in the best spot possible coming to the white. But yeah, I’m in the care center and I don’t even know where I finished. It really sucks, but that’s racing.”

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Cindric was one of the few Fords left in the final laps, as all of his teammates were taken out in the Big One on lap 192. With no manufacturer teammates remaining, he had to take the help where he could get it in the closing laps.

“I mean, once you get that few laps left in the race, it’s gridlocked,” Cindric said. “So, you’re pretty much just doing your best to push. I mean, my job the whole rest of that race was to push the No. 24 as best as I could until I could get clear. And we got to that point once the outside lane broke apart. I had a great opportunity, so I don’t know. I mean yeah, if I had a teammate …

“Honestly, there’s probably 39 other cars that would’ve taken care of that [final lap] situation maybe a little better.”

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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Larry Yelton

I sure wouldn’t be bragging about kicking someone’s butt in pits when Chevy couldn’t outrun them fords and the only way they could win was to cause the big one and all the the money they cost the ones they wreck So if i was 48 and 24 drivers i stick my head between my legs Cause they sure don’t have anything to brag about

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