Seven things we learned from a weekend of Extreme E and NASCAR
With no Formula 1 yet on the horizon, IMSA's second round still a few weeks off and Formula E travelling back from Mexico, this weekend was the chance for NASCAR's showpiece Daytona 500 and Extreme E's season openener to steal the headlines.
Rookie Cindric wins Daytona 500 for Penske
Rookie NASCAR Cup racer Austin Cindric delivered Roger Penske the perfect gift on ‘The Captain’s’ 85th birthday by dramatically winning the Daytona 500 in front of a full-house crowd at the Florida tri-oval on Sunday night. And while Formula 1 agonises over anti-climactic finishes under a safety car, NASCAR showed how it’s avoided them without a single blush of embarrassment – by simply adding a couple of ‘overtime’ laps following a late accident, to ensure a barnstorming finish to the biggest race of its season.
‘Happy birthday, Captain!’
At 23 years old, Cindric won what was only his eighth Cup start in the wake of an accident that eliminated contender Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on lap 195 of what was supposed to be 200. So in what effectively became the Daytona 505, Cindric headed the pack for two final ‘overtime’ laps – and just clung on to claim a memorable victory in the 64th running of the great race.
“Oh, my God – do you know what makes this even better? A packed house,” said an overjoyed Cindric after climbing from his car. “A packed house at the Daytona 500. Oh, my God, I’ve got so many people to thank. First and foremost, Roger Penske. Happy Birthday!”
Again in stark contrast to the hand-wringing that goes on in F1, Cindric only took victory after pushing another car into the wall – his team-mate Ryan Blaney! The pack jostled behind Cindric two by two on those final two laps, with Blaney well placed to get a run for victory at the head of the outside line. But when he made the move over the final yards, Cindric squeezed him and Blaney clouted the wall, triggering a crash behind him.
Meanwhile, the rookie kept his foot in to beat Darrell ‘Bubba’ Wallace Jr by just three feet – and 0.036sec. Chase Briscoe was third, just 0.091sec behind. Such are the fine margins in NASCAR, as the premier stock car category put on a successful points-playing Cup debut for the new Next Gen racer. And was there a stewards enquiry following Blaney’s shove into the wall? Of course not.
“I wanted to win the race for Roger Penske, whether that was me or another car,” said Blaney as he explained his strategy of waiting to make his move until the race’s final moment. “That’s what I was doing. I didn’t want to make a move too early because that throws a big chance out the window.”
That didn’t mean he was happy about Cindric’s tactics. When asked whether his team-mate’s move had been fair or underhand, he answered: “I don’t know.” But in true NASCAR fashion he also took the defeat smack on the chin with an honest admission. “Congrats to him, I guess. Got to throw a block in that situation.”
Another close call for Wallace Jr.
While another big victory for Penske on his 85th birthday was a great story, it would surely have been a better one had ‘Bubba’ Wallace Jr. been three feet further forward. As NASCAR’s only black full-time racing star, his victory would surely have made more prominent headlines around the world. Instead, he missed out by the smallest of margins and for the second time in five starts at the Daytona 500, having also finished runner-up in 2018 to Austin Dillon.
“What could have been, right?” said Wallace, who followed Cindric on the low line in those final laps. The Blaney block gave him the opening he needed for a run to the chequered flag – but he didn’t have quite enough race left to draw ahead.
While admitting he was “dejected”, Wallace also took plenty of positives from the 2022 Daytona 500. “It’s always the first race of the season and you’re getting through everything, but when you come out of the gates like that, it’s empowering, it’s encouraging.”
Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia, the second season of the Extreme E electric off-road series kicked off – and reigning champion Rosberg X Racing made a perfect start to its title defence by winning the opening X Prix of 2022 in the deserts of NEOM.
The final turned into a race of two halves following a red flag caused by a big accident at the end of the first lap involving McLaren’s new entry. Tanner Foust clipped the rear of Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky in the RXR entry and rolled his Odyssey 21.
The race resumed for a one-lap shootout with the four entries released at intervals that matched how they had entered the driver switch zone. Four-time World Rallycross Champion Johan Kristoffersson was now in the RXR car, passed Cristina Gutíerrez in Lewis Hamilton’s X44 entry, then pulled off an assertive pass for the victory when he demoted Laia Sanz in the Odyssey she shares with Carlos Sainz Sr. Chip Ganassi Racing finished fourth after qualifying for the final by winning the second semi-final, while McLaren was classified fifth on its debut despite Foust’s crash. The team made it through to the final five after winning the last-chance ‘Crazy Race’.
First win for Åhlin-Kottulinsky
While Kristoffersson helmed RXR’s successful title bid in season one, this marked a first Extreme E victory for his team-mate, who was a late and surprise replacement for Molly Taylor. The Australian has effectively switched places with Åhlin-Kottulinsky because she now races for Jenson Button’s JBXE team with whom the Swede lined up in 2021.
“I know that Johan is an amazing racer and the tactics this weekend were that if I wasn’t first out of turn one it was just to make sure that the gap didn’t get any bigger,” she said, giving full credit to her experienced team-mate for the win. “I knew that the 10 seconds he had to make up in the final he could make them up and it was exciting to watch. I was holding my breath at waypoint 22, but I was fully confident overall!
“This is my first win so of course it feels really great and even better to do it having just entered the team. There have been quite a few incidents out there and we managed to avoid that and keep the car in one piece, so it was a good weekend.”
Rollercoaster weekend for McLaren
Taylor had looked on course to qualify for the final after inheriting the lead of the Crazy Race from team-mate Kevin Hansen, only for McLaren’s Foust to prevail in the final few corners with the use of his Hyperdrive boost. It proved an up and down first Extreme E weekend for McLaren. The Crazy Race win followed a disappointing qualifying run on Saturday when a technical fault on the team’s Odyssey left Emma Gilmour powerless to get away from the switch zone when she took over from Foust. His accident in the final ensured the team has plenty to do and think about before the next round, which takes place in Sardinia, Italy on 7th/8th May.