DARLINGTON, S.C. - Austin Cindric was in position to win Saturday’s race at Darlington Raceway, sitting on the outside of the front row for an overtime restart, but Noah Gragson took advantage of the preferred inside lane to win his first race of the season.
Cindric was forced to settle for third after starting 24th, but ended up gaining crucial ground in the battle for the regular season championship. After entering the race 17 points behind leader AJ Allmendinger, Cindric’s finish enabled him to shave all but one point from that deficit with two races remaining before the playoffs begin.
Riley Herbst, who had a 68-point advantage over Michael Annett for the final playoff spot, saw a third of that disappear when he was involved in an accident going into turn three with Tommy Joe Martins on lap 110. He ended up in 38th place and now holds a 46-point lead going into Richmond.
Ryan Sieg, who needs a victory in the last two regular season events to make the playoff field of 12, finished 11th.
The series will be the first half of a NASCAR doubleheader on Saturday, Sept. 11 at Richmond Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
FORD FINISHING RESULTS
3rd -- Austin Cindric
11th -- Ryan Sieg
38th -- Riley Herbst
AUSTIN CINDRIC, No. 22 Snap-On Ford Mustang
WHAT HAPPENED ON THE LAST RESTART?
“I feel like the bottom was definitely the place to be for just the launch, especially for the front row. I feel like Noah went two or three car lengths too early. I’d have to watch the replay to be 100 percent certain, but perhaps I could have seen that coming and then the other side of me is like, ‘I don’t want to get a penalty because that’s spots in points.’ I knew the outside was the safe play. From there, I thought we had a really good long run car. We struggled to gain track position all day. We did a solid job all day trying to execute but we weren’t perfect. I’m proud of what we gained today with the Snap-On Ford Mustang. It’s definitely the best race I feel like I”ve had at Darlington, just having the strength and not having too many weaknesses. As a team, that takes a lot of conversations throughout the week to try to get that right, so we righted a lot of wrongs for me at this racetrack today. I feel good about that.”
YOU FINISHED 3RD WHILE AJ HAD SOME ISSUES WITH A LOOSE WHEEL. HOW BIG IS THAT AS YOU GUYS BATTLE FOR THE REGULAR SEASON TITLE?
“It’s gonna be a fun two weeks.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE NEW GRIP STRIP IN TURN TWO AND IF IT WAS WHAT YOU EXPECTED?
“Today when we showed up it was a construction site and now it’s a racetrack. That’s the way I see it. It’s dirty. It’s new asphalt. We’re the first cars to run on it. It gained grip throughout the day. It got cleaned throughout the day. It got more raceable throughout the day. I don’t think it will be much of a story line tomorrow. You can make the argument that it can make it harder to pass, but you can also make the argument that it helps the bottom lane hang in on restarts off of two. There are pros and cons, but it seems like something the track needed to do and I see no problem with it.”
WHAT ABOUT THE TRANSITION FROM THAT NEW ASPHALT TO THE OLD?
“There was a little bit of bump on transition and exit, but I think they did a good job of making that transition smooth. We’ll see how that plays out over time as the asphalt settles, but they did a good job for the weekend.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE REGULAR SEASON TITLE FOR YOU AND TEAM PENSKE?
“It’s the equivalent of three wins. I see those playoff points invaluable.”
RILEY HERBST, No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang
“I’m fine. I really want to see the replay before I comment any further, but I don’t know why they were stopping in the center of the straightaway at Darlington. That’s kind of crazy, but I think we’re 443points or so and hopefully we can go to Richmond with that cushion. Hopefully, we can gain a few more points there and then we’ll be a little bit more comfortable for Bristol.”
HOW WAS YOUR DAY TO THAT POINT?
“It was up-and-down, for sure. We definitely got it better there at the end and we had decent pace. It’s just frustrating why somebody is stopping on the back straightaway.”