AVONDALE, Ariz. — In one instant, Friday night’s Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway saw one driver rejoicing and left another one brokenhearted, after contact between Austin Cindric and Ben Rhodes decided the outcome of the final berth in the Championship 4.
On a restart with 21 laps to go, Rhodes and Cindric restarted nose-to-tail on the inside lane after the pair had pitted for two fresh right-side tires under caution in the closing stages.
Cindric nailed the restart and cut to Rhodes’ inside, getting enough of a run to pull just to the quarter-panel of the No. 27 Safelite Auto Glass Toyota as Rhodes began to come down the track on the frontstretch to try and block Cindric’s advance.
The move didn’t work and Rhodes went spinning across the nose of Cindric’s Ford, making heavy contact with the inside wall before shooting back up the track going into turn one and collecting Matt Crafton in a heavy crash.
With the crash damage eliminating Rhodes from the race while Cindric was able to continue, the Brad Keselowski Racing driver was able to clinch the fourth and final spot among the playoff contenders in the championship round.
Reached on the radio under the red flag that ensued from the crash, Cindric immediately drew a parallel to a similar incident last November at Homestead-Miami Speedway that ended Carl Edwards’ title hopes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
“I think it’s an exact highlight reel of what we saw at Homestead last year with the Cup stuff,” Cindric explained. “I had a good run, I went to the inside and Ben threw the block when I was already there. I can’t be pushed around and I knew that was our chance to get to Miami.”
“He was faster than us all night. I had to hold my line, and unfortunately he went to block … which I don’t think was his best decision. it’s unfortunate. I really hate that it had to happen that way, but there was nothing intentional there. I tried to get a run and held my run and it happened the way it did.”
Rhodes, who outscored Cindric by four points through the first two stages and ran provisionally inside the final four all night long, offered his own version of what happened after being released from the infield care center.
“There’s definitely a time and place to go three wide, but there was still a lot of racing to do,” said Rhodes. “He put me in a bad place and I tried to do everything I could do keep the spot … but once you file into turn one like that, you’re going to wreck.”
“I’m not sure that was the right move on his part. I did everything I could to make sure we were having a good day. We were in front of him all day long and we were going to go to the final four. It looked like a desperation move to me, because there was so much racing left to do. I guess if I was in his position I wouldn’t blame him. It’s definitely not the move I would have made at that point in the race.”
Rhodes was adamant in his stance due to the fact that Cindric wasn’t fully alongside him when the contact occurred.
“He didn’t have position on me at all and he never would have made the corner,” Rhodes explained. “He was just driving in over his head, I guess. We still have Homestead to go and fifth place in the standings that we can cheer about. It’s unfortunate for my teammate (Crafton) because he was also having a good run tonight. It’s just sad to see all that happen.”
And as for Crafton, who was collateral damage in the incident? His attitude about the wreck was simple.
“We were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said the two-time champion. “I told Ben, ‘That (No.) 19 better not finish (at) Homestead.'”
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network, as well as a periodic contributor to SPEED SPORT Magazine.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
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