Playoff Picture Hazy After Austin Cindric's Wild Win at Gateway



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Austin Cindric, Team Penske

There are only 11 races remaining in the NASCAR Cup series regular season, and the Playoff picture is becoming quite interesting.

Austin Cindric locked himself into the Playoffs with a surprise win last weekend in the June 2 Enjoy Illinois 300 at World Wide Technology Raceway. Cindric was on his way to a third-place finish in the closing laps when fortune turned his way.

Christopher Bell had an engine issue that took him out of contention. Then Cindric’s Penske teammate Ryan Blaney ran out of fuel on the final lap while in the lead. That opened the door for Cindric, who put himself in position to be there in the end.

RYAN BLANEY IS OUT OF GAS. AUSTIN CINDRIC WINS AT WWT RACEWAY!

Team Penske’s first win of the season was a bittersweet moment for the organization. The crowd was subdued, almost in disbelief at what had just happened. It was a brutal start to the season for Ford as a whole, but the blue oval has now won three of the last four races.

The victory makes Cindric the eighth driver officially locked into the Playoffs. Heading into Sonoma, some marquee names are still on the outside looking in. Blaney, the reigning series champion, is among them.

Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., and Kyle Busch are three other former champions who remain winless this season. Ty Gibbs, Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace, Ross Chastain, Michael McDowell, and Alex Bowman are all still searching for victory lane to punch their ticket as well. Several winless streaks have already been snapped this year.

Longest winless streaks broken this season –
110 Brad Keselowski at Darlington May, 85 Austin Cindric at St. Louis, 57 Daniel Suárez at Atlanta Feb. & 42 Chase Elliott at Texas

Two non-ovals remain at Sonoma and the Chicago street course, which was won by Shane Van Gisbergen last year. The opportunities to clinch with a victory are dwindling, so many teams are trying to collect as many points as possible over this final stretch.

There have been nine different winners through the first 15 races. Cindric winning and the strong possibility of Kyle Larson getting a Playoff waiver means that points are truly at a premium. Truex and Gibbs are in solid positions right now, but the JGR teammates would love nothing more than to win to guarantee their spots.

Getting above the cutoff line will be the focus for many teams and drivers, beginning this weekend in Sonoma. That is what makes the gut punches that Buescher (Darlington, Kansas) and Blaney (Gateway) received even tougher.


Waiting on Waiver for Kyle Larson

One big wrinkle still to play out is the status of Kyle Larson’s Playoff eligibility. Hendrick Motorsports submitted the paperwork for the request, but NASCAR still has not made a decision, four days later. There is no timetable or deadline for them to approve or deny the waiver request, but the consensus is that series officials are very conflicted at the moment.

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Following the Coca-Cola 600 Larson was shown officially with 17 Playoff points. After this past race in St. Louis, he is now shown with 0 Playoff points. Larson is currently not in the Playoff field, but if NASCAR does grant him a waiver, that is another spot taken.

The sooner a decision is made, the better. The longer this situation plays out, the more cloudy the Playoff picture becomes.


Kyle Busch Tangles With Kyle Larson at Gateway

Both of the Kyles have been making headlines over the last month, and not all of them have been positive. Busch had his moment with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after the All-Star race, but he was not fined or penalized in any way. He has had a rough season so far, and his 20-year streak of seasons with a victory is in serious jeopardy.

Busch saw light at the end of the tunnel, or so he thought. In the two Cup races at Gateway, no one has performed better than the Richard Childress Racing driver. Busch earned a runner-up finish the first year and won the race last year. An opportunity to turn his season around was in plain sight, but it quickly went up in smoke.

On the final lap of Stage 2, Larson and Busch were battling for seventh place. They came together in Turn 1 after making side contact on the front stretch. Both cars slammed into the outside wall, and while Larson was able to continue, Busch’s day was done.

Kyle Busch outside the care center wasn’t sure what that one regular-season point at the end of the stage would mean for Kyle Larson when Larson ended up getting loose and into Busch, ending his day.

“Trying to race for a Playoff spot and, you know, gradually falling there a little bit,” a frustrated Busch told FOX Sports after the race. “He [Larson] got loose and wiped us out.” It was Busch’s first DNF of the season. Larson said that it was just hard racing. “I’ve got nothing bad to say about Kyle at all.”

Chad Smith is an Indiana-based sports writer and photographer covering NASCAR for Heavy.com. His previous bylines include CRASH, Fastest 33 and more. More about Chad Smith





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