Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at WWT Raceway: A Good, Old Fashioned Strategy Race  

What Happened?

When the smoke cleared at World Wide Technology Raceway, Austin Cindric stood atop his race car, victorious for the first time since the 2022 Daytona 500. Cindric passed Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney coming to the white flag as the No. 12 ran out of fuel.

Behind Cindric, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski claimed the other two podium positions. 

See also
Austin Cindric Takes Advantage As Ryan Blaney's Misfortune Continues

While he stole the victory, Cindric certainly still earned it after leading 53 laps throughout the afternoon, the most he has ever led in a race. 

What Really Happened?

A caution-free final stage wrapped up a good, old-fashioned strategy race at Gateway. A myriad of early pit strategies and a mixture of late-race problems shook up the field all day, keeping the racing fairly fun on a track where passing proved difficult.

Strategy races may not present as the most entertaining, side-by-side, action-packed events, but this particular day’s strategies helped this race shine, building to an entertaining climax at the finish. 

It began early with a couple of cautions where drivers further back pitted, only to flip the field at the end of the opening stage by taking two tires.

Another caution in stage two mixed the field up even more, adding a perfect seasoning to what at times seemed like a bland race.

By putting the best cars in the middle of the pack and by running green in the last stage, the strategies sparked up a memorable final stage. 

Christopher Bell had the dominant car, and once he took the lead in the opening stage, he took off. Behind Bell, a certain lack of passing plagued the field in the first few runs of the race. After the cautions switched up the strategies, however, Bell found himself in the middle of the field, and the cars in front put up a little bit of fight. 

Too often these days, a good, old-fashioned strategy race gets interrupted by a caution that ruins the strategies and the on-track action. With the final stage running green, however, it allowed the various plans to play out fully.

When races have cautions split the stages, the restarts are entertaining for a few laps, but then everyone equals out in this car. The timing of the final pit stops made this race much more interesting.

The drivers with track position had to pit earlier in the stage. With a slight amount of tire falloff, they were able to slightly increase their gaps to the cars who ran longer. Once the second group of cars pitted, however, many of them used their fresher tires to make up the ground on the back half of the green flag run. 

Instead of a caution ruining the different strategies, drivers like Tyler Reddick, Kyle Larson and Ty Gibbs were able to earn better finishes by driving through the field at a track where passing was really difficult. 

Bell was another one of those drivers who pitted late to drive through the field. He and Blaney had an epic battle raging before the engine on the No. 20 tapped out.

The heavyweight slugfest between Blaney and Bell would have been a satisfying ending for any race, only to be ruined by the engine issue. However, the slight fuel miscalculation for Blaney added the perfect twist to finish off an incredible strategy race.

It will be hard to top that at Sonoma Raceway.

Who Stood Out?

Yes, he won the whole thing, but where exactly did Cindric come from?

He entered the race 20th in points, and his two 20th-place finishes were his best non-drafting oval finishes this year. 

But Cindric didn’t use strategy to fluke himself into a winning position. He ran inside the top five nearly all afternoon and had the lead over Blaney before the final pit stops. Without the win, he still stood out. But with the win, he is now a playoff driver.

In the back half of the top 10, Carson Hocevar and Justin Haley stood out. Haley continues to impress week after week, and he passed a lot of good cars on the racetrack to finish ninth. Meanwhile, Hocevar capitalized on great strategy at a track that changed it all for him last year to make up for his DNF in the No. 7 and earn his career-best finish.

Most importantly, the biggest standout also busted a bunch of brackets. Austin Dillon knocked Martin Truex Jr. out of Hamlin’s bracket challenge. Sure, Truex had a tire problem and finished terribly, but Dillon ran inside the top 10 for much of the final stage. It was a much-needed result for Dillon, and he moves on to face Chris Buescher at Sonoma.

Who Fell Flat?

Truex’s aforementioned tire issues caused him to finish multiple laps down while his teammates ran well. Bad luck Blaney struck again, stealing away a win and sealing him in 24th, and yet again, Kyle Busch had some on-track antics and ended with a crashed car. But a few other finishers suffered their own brand of disappointment.

Michael McDowell earned his third pole of the season at a non-superspeedway oval where he has previously found success. On top of winning the pole, he looked really fast. Unfortunately, the varying strategies buried McDowell, who disappeared after the first stage.

Last year, the No. 7 showed just how good it could be as Hocevar drove around the top 15 before a brake rotor exploded. This year, Corey LaJoie finished 32nd. A race like this should have given LaJoie a great opportunity for a top-20 finish, but whether it was due to driver errors or poor strategy, that wasn’t to be.

See also
Thinkin’ Out Loud at WWT Raceway: A Good, Old Fashioned Strategy Race

Better Than Last Time?

By no means was this race an absolute barnburner with action around every corner. But the strategies mixed up the field. Bell drove to battle Blaney, building toward a great end. When that battle failed, Blaney’s fuel issues really mucked up the ending — in a good way. 

Compared to last year’s race, this one absolutely raced better from start to finish.

Paint Scheme of the Race

Dow doesn’t sponsor Dillon as much as they used to. We haven’t seen a red and black Dow machine in a couple of seasons, but they have jumped on with a variety of associate partners to create some new schemes. 

This weekend, Dow partnered with Rivers are Life to put a mural on the side of the No. 3. The splashing river water on the lush green background looked like a cool summer day, a great paint scheme.

What’s Next?

The NASCAR Cup Series takes on a repaved Sonoma Raceway. Coverage for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 will begin Sunday, June 9 at 3:30 p.m. on FOX Sports 1.

About the author

calebbarnes924

I began sports writing in 2023 with The Liberty Champion, where I officially covered my first NASCAR race at Richmond in the spring. While there, I met some of the guys from Frontstretch, and I joined the video editing team after I graduated from Liberty University with degrees in Strategic Communications and Sports Journalism. I currently work full-time as a Multi-Media Journalist with LEX 18 News in Lexington, Kentucky and contribute to Frontstretch with writing and video editing. I'm also behind-the-scenes or on camera for the Happy Hour Podcast, live every Tuesday night at 7:30!

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