MADISON, Ill. — Austin Cindric snapped an 85-race winless streak Sunday with what he would admit was a third-place car.

Christopher Bell led 80 laps but an engine issue with about 17 laps remaining as he was dueling Ryan Blaney cost him a shot at the win, and then Blaney — who had led 20 of the previous 21 laps — ran out of fuel coming to the white flag, allowing Blaney teammate Cindric to zoom by for the victory at World Wide Technology Raceway outside of St. Louis.

“It’s crazy to think that probably the two best cars at the end of that race both had an issue,” Cindric said after the win at the track commonly referred to as “Gateway,” a 1.25-mile oval. “The third-place car wins the race.

“That’s the way I see it. It’s not like I went out there and took the lead away. But we were in position. One of our best-executed races so far this year with probably our best speed we’ve shown this year.” 

The son of Team Penske president who won the 2022 Daytona 500 in his rookie season, Cindric entered the race 20th in the Cup standings and now has vaulted himself into the playoffs.

Team executive vice president Walt Czarnecki said the team had not lost confidence in Cindric. 

“He has not lost his desire,” Czarencki said. “This is a reaffirming situation, circumstance for him today. … We’ve never lost faith in Austin Cindric, I promise you.”

Takeaways after a race where following Cindric across the finish line were Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Tyler Reddick and Joey Logano.

Cindric Validation

Cindric didn’t make the playoffs last year as he finished 24th in the standings and had just five top-10s after a rookie year in which he posted nine top-10s. The win Sunday was just his second top-10 of the season in a year where Team Penske struggled over the first few months.

“I don’t want to find myself in a position to be okay with 10th and be, ‘OK, hey, I finished in the top 10, that’s an awesome day.’ No, that’s 10th,” Cindric said. “That’s good, that’s a step forward, but it’s not where I want to be. It’s not the level in which I prepare. It’s not the level in which my team expects to perform.

“That’s not good enough to race and drive at Team Penske. I know that. No one has to tell me that. There’s no meeting that has to be set in place. I take that very personally.”

Austin Cindric speaks on his first place finish in the Enjoy Illinois 300

The victory marked the first points-race win for the organization in the 15 races this year. It looked like it would be Blaney over the final 15 laps until Blaney ran out of fuel.

“Going into the race today, I went to bed last night knowing I’d be really, really disappointed if one of us didn’t win,” Cindric said. “I’m just happy that we were in position there when the 12 car [of Blaney] ran out, bring home a win because this team deserves it.

“I can’t wait to see everybody back at the shop. Everyone has been super supportive, believing in me through good days and bad days.”

Bell, Blaney disappointment

The two drivers who left flabbergasted they didn’t win were Blaney and Bell.

Blaney had no idea he was close on gas.

“Obviously, bummed for us — the nut shots keep coming here this past month,” Blaney said. “Hopefully it straightens itself out. I’m proud of the effort. We have to figure out what happened there. We thought we had more fuel than we did.”

Ryan Blaney on running out of gas with two laps to go in the Enjoy Illinois 300

Bell’s team was not sure what exactly caused the engine to lose horsepower. Bell did say he didn’t think his intense battle with Blaney to try to regain the lead was what led to the issue.

“I don’t think the racing had anything at all to do with it,” Bell said. “It wasn’t our day. No matter where we were, we were going to end up blowing up.”

Larson-Busch tangle

At the end of the second stage, Kyle Larson tried to pass on the inside of Kyle Busch, and both cars spun, with Busch ending up done for the day and leaving Larson a little wounded before he rallied to finish 10th.

“It looked like [Larson] got loose down the front straightaway into Turn 1,” Busch said. “He was on older tires and trying to get us for a spot. I’m not sure what that single point would mean for him, but it certainly hurt us a lot.

“It took that point away, as well as the others that we would get for the stage and then also the rest of the day. It’s very frustrating. We can’t afford days like that.”

Kyle Busch expresses frustration after wreck with Kyle Larson

Larson felt Busch pinched him a little but felt “it was just hard racing — I’ve got nothing bad to say about Kyle.”

“We were coming to the end of that stage, and I was little better than him and [I went to] side-draft him and barely touched his quarter panel,” Larson said. “I’m guessing it ticked him off and he squeezed into me. … I guess he took the air off of me and [we] spun.”

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.

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