Cindric, in his first full season in Cup Series, led the way on the start of the two-lap overtime following a crash involving Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Chris Buescher.
But as the last lap got underway, he got a big shove out from Penske team-mate Ryan Blaney that took him clear of outside lane runner Brad Keselowski (RFK Ford).
Blaney then went to high side in an attempt to get around Cindric, but the rookie blocked his advance and edged Blaney’s Ford towards the wall.
As Blaney fell back, Cindric outran Wallace’s 23XI Racing Toyota to take his first Cup victory in NASCAR’s biggest race, on team owner Roger Penske’s 85th birthday.
Cindric is just the fourth driver since 1994 to score his first Cup victory in the Daytona 500 after 2021 winner Michael McDowell, Trevor Bayne (2011), Michael Waltrip (2001), and Sterling Marlin (1994).
The 23-year-old champion of the second-tier Xfinity Series in 2020, who narrowly missed out on defending his title in a photo-finish in the 2021 Phoenix finale, said: “This makes up for losing a championship in the last race I was in.
“I’m surrounded by great people, that’s all there is to it.
“I know there’s going to be highs and lows , being a rookie. I’m just grateful for the opportunity and excited to climb the mountain ahead of us on the #2 team.
“We’re in the playoffs – that’s one box checked. My gosh, what an awesome group of fans; what an awesome race car. I’m just really thankful.”
Cindric beat Wallace to the flag to win the Daytona 500
Photo by: Jasen Vinlove / NKP / Motorsport Images
Chase Briscoe, who had been pushing Keselowski on the last lap before mounting a late challenge to the 2012 Cup champion’s outside, recovered from an early spin to finish third for Stewart-Haas Racing after getting a big push from Kyle Busch.
Blaney ended up fourth over the line as SHR’s Aric Almirola – in his final season in the Cup series – rounded out the top-five.
Busch was another to recover from an early crash to finish sixth ahead of McDowell, who started Stage 3 from the rear of the field after a pitlane speeding penalty, and David Ragan.
Both McDowell and Ragan hit the wall hard following the chequered flag, as a touch from Ragan unsettled Keselowski and punted him into McDowell, who was then fired into Ragan’s path.
Keselowski and Chase Elliott completed the top 10, while 1997 Formula 1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve finished three laps down in 22nd with his non-chartered Team Hezeberg Ford.
The race was the first point-paying event for NASCAR’s Next Generation car, which appeared to have few hiccups. A couple teams suffered lost wheels with the new single lug nut configuration and a few others had difficulty driving their cars away after suffering flat tyres.
The race had its usual fair share of incidents, with a red flag required to clear a multi-car wreck in Stage 1 that caused rookie Harrison Burton to briefly go upside-down before his Wood Brothers Ford landed on its wheels again.
The incident was caused by Keselowski turning Burton around, also engulfing JGR Toyotas Busch, Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell, Hendrick Chevrolets William Byron and Alex Bowman, plus Ross Chastain’s Trackhouse Chevrolet.
Cindric celebrates victory
Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images
Last year’s Cup series runner-up Martin Truex Jr, who had won the first Stage for JGR, also prevailed in the second Stage by beating 2015 Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano (Penske Ford) to the line.
But both drivers were caught up in another multi-car accident in Stage 3, along with Kurt Busch, when Tyler Reddick spun on the frontstretch on lap 151.
Stenhouse had moved into the lead with help from Buescher when the race was halted again by another wreck on lap 191, when Larson turned Harvick into the path of Noah Gragson on the front-stretch. Among those also collected were Erik Jones, Todd Gilliland and Elliott.
After NASCAR stopped the race for nearly six minutes to clear the track of debris, most of the field elected to pit. But Stenhouse stayed out and led the way when the race resumed on lap 195 until his race was ended by contact with Keselowski that brought out another caution and sent the race into a two-lap overtime.