Austin Cindric kept his Florida momentum rolling Saturday. The Daytona 500 winner sits on the pole ahead of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup series Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
Cindric was all smiles with his team as he watched Chase Elliott, the final driver to set a lap, spin out of turn four.
“Overall, it’s been an awesome week for me,” he said. “I’m honestly real happy to get back to work and figuring out this process.”
He acknowledged the uncertainty, though, adding that “there are so many unknowns. Everybody’s constantly learning. I think we’ll be halfway through the race until anyone knows what they really have.”
Spins were the theme of the day, and especially of the final round of qualifying. In the shootout between the ten-fastest drivers, four spun. Brad Keselowski lost the car out of turn two, while Joey Logano, William Byron, and Chase Elliot all spun after running on the apron in turn four. Keselowski, Byron, and Elliot all managed to keep their cars out of the wall, although Logano hit hard. The damage appeared cosmetic though, a testament to the strength of the Next Gen bodies.
Erik Jones, who put his Petty GMS car on the front row said: “It’s definitely on an edge and it’s challenging. It’s easy for me to say it’s fun.” He acknowledged that “the driving style is 100% different… and there’s just a really fine line of pushing it hard to make speed and stepping over that line.” He said teams would be looking into the balance of the car moving forward, but he added, “I don’t think that racecars should be totally easy to drive… I’ve been happy with it.”
Several drivers didn’t even get to set a lap in qualifying having previously crashed in practice. Kevin Harvick and Ross Chastain also spun in hard hits in turn four. Harvick said the car got out of his hands while he “wasn’t even hardly in the throttle,” and both cars had to be towed back. Bubba Wallace pushed too high on entry into turn one and scraped the wall, with damage impacting the diffuser. Neither 23XI car was able to set a time in qualifying, after Kurt Busch failed pre-qualifying inspection three times earlier in the day.
Other cars struggled in the sessions but were able to keep going. In practice, Christopher Bell managed to keep his turn four spin under control and continued on. Chris Buescher also managed to keep his spinning Ford out of the wall, meaning both RFK cars had issues in the sessions. Aric Almirola had a similar moment in the first round of qualifying, although he saved the car. He was unable to set a time, though.
Coming in to Sunday, the top drivers seem confident. “I feel like I have a feel for tomorrow and what I need to do to stay out of trouble,” Jones said.
However, the entire field is facing even stronger unknowns in the first 2.0-mile race in the Next Gen era.
Sunday’s starting lineup can be found here.
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