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Austin Cindric opens NASCAR Xfinity Series title defense with win at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Austin Cindric opened his NASCAR Xfinity Series title defense with a Saturday night victory at Daytona International Speedway that could count as the biggest of his blossoming career.

Cindric got a push to the lead at the start of the two-lap overtime from AJ Allmendinger that gave him control of the race. Cindric jumped up to the top line in his No. 22 Ford in front of Harrison Burton, who in turn tried to dart below Cindric before Cindric threw a block.

Cindric held off Burton and Brett Moffitt over the final lap to pick up his first career win on Daytona's oval. He makes his Cup Series debut Sunday in the Daytona 500 for Team Penske.

His victory was a continuation of where Cindric left things in November, when he snapped a 13-race losing streak to win the season finale and the Xfinity title.

"Obviously, coming off a lot of momentum with that championship last year, but nothing's guaranteed," Cindric said. "Try to do it again tomorrow, I guess."

Cindric last August won the Xfinity Series debut on Daytona's road course, and he won a RallyCross event early in his career. Neither compares to winning on Daytona's famed 2.5-mile banked oval.

"Anything with four wheels, man," Cindric said.

Moffitt was second in a Chevrolet and Burton third for Toyota.

Ty Dillon finished 14th to end a brutal Speedweeks for him.

Dillon made a move for the lead with 16 laps remaining by pulling into a middle lane. Dillon tried to pick his way through traffic but couldn't clear Daniel Hemric before Dillon tried to jump back into the bottom lane. Dillon spun and triggered a 14-car crash.

He missed the Daytona 500 because of the quirky qualifying format that gave Cindric a spot in the race even though Dillon beat him in their qualifying race. He's out of a job after four seasons racing in Cup and Saturday was the first of four Xfinity races he has landed with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Dillon is the grandson of Richard Childress, and his older brother, 2018 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, is among the contenders Sunday. He's determined to go his own path, but his time this year at Daytona will be remembered for the discussion he sparked about the 500's qualifying system.