Austin Cindric Grabs the Win at Gateway

Euphoria defined Team Penske driver Austin Cindric’s victory in Sunday’s Enjoy Illinois 300 at World Wide Technology Raceway, which came at the expense of teammate Ryan Blaney.

The race seemed to be Blaney’s for the taking until the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion ran out of fuel. Cindric surged past Blaney at the start/finish line and completed the final lap as Blaney painfully coasted to a 24th-place finish. This win marked Cindric’s first since his rookie victory at the 2022 Daytona 500, ending an 85-race dry spell. Despite the triumph, Cindric expressed mixed emotions after exiting his No. 2 Ford.

“This weekend was a great weekend for everybody involved,” Cindric said. “But, yeah, to have two cars in the fight, eventual 1-2. Heartbroken for those guys.

“This is huge for me. This is huge for this team. I’m so glad I was able to get a win with Brian (Wilson) as my crew chief in the Cup Series. You never know when it’s going to happen again. Just drove my butt off, hoped for the best.”

All three Team Penske drivers — Austin Cindric, Ryan Blaney, and Joey Logano — made only three pit stops, while all other competitors made at least four. They opted to stay out during the caution at the Stage 2 break, restarting in the top three positions on Lap 149.

Blaney pitted on Lap 176, followed by Cindric on Lap 177 and Logano on Lap 179. This early pit strategy allowed Blaney to overtake Cindric and advance through the field as other cars pitted.

By Lap 217, Blaney took the lead when Kyle Larson pitted, but faced pressure from the race’s fastest car, Christopher Bell’s No. 20 Toyota. Bell closed in on Blaney and challenged him for the lead multiple times before experiencing engine trouble that caused him to slow significantly.

“I’m blowing up, I’m blowing up,” Bell radioed to his crew.

Despite winning the first two stages, Bell had to nurse his car to the finish line with assistance from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Martin Truex Jr. Running three laps down in 34th place, Truex repeatedly pushed Bell’s Camry during the final laps.

Blaney then encountered his own race-altering misfortune.

“Never thought in my mind we were short,” Blaney said. “One of those things. Gosh, proud of the 12 boys. We were fast. Had my work cut out for me holding off Christopher. That was a fun battle. I don’t know what happened to him.

“Yeah, one lap short, which just stinks. Congrats to the 2 team. They did a good job all day. Props to them, Austin. Proud for Team Penske and Ford.

Tyler Reddick finished fourth, with Logano in fifth, followed by Austin Dillon, Bell, rookie Carson Hocevar (who achieved a career-best eighth), Justin Haley, and Larson.

On Lap 140, the final lap of Stage 2, Kyle Busch and Larson were closely contesting the seventh position when Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet lost control beneath Busch’s No. 8 Camaro, causing both cars to slide into the outside wall.

Busch’s car sustained irreparable damage, resulting in his exit from the race in 35th place — his first DNF of the season. Larson, however, managed to secure a 10th-place finish.

“We can’t afford days like this,” said Busch, who is winless this year and squarely on the bubble for a playoff spot. “Yeah, he got loose and wiped us out.”

The Cup Series will move on to Sonoma Raceway for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 next Sunday.