Austin Cindric (Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

Cindric Looks To Bring Champion Pedigree To Playoffs

Winning a crown jewel event in motorsports is a life-changing moment for any driver. 

Being introduced as a winner of the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, or Southern 500, holds a tremendous amount of weight. 

However, that title brings elevated expectations. 

The expectations to perform at a high level skyrocket.

Though for Team Penske’s Austin Cindric, his expectations after winning the 64th Daytona 500, and notching a playoff position in his rookie season, are non-existent. 

Cindric heads into the playoffs with eight top-10 finishes. (HHP/Chris Owens)

“I don’t have any expectations,” Cindric said. “I got the same questions before the start of the season on what my expectations were for my rookie year and, honestly, I want to do my job. That’s the only expectation I have is to have a team that has all of the resources and capability to be able to do that and we’ve certainly delivered on a lot of occasions. We were certainly having a great season if you look back and I have to give myself perspective sometimes that I’m racing round guys who are having career-best years and sometimes I want too much, so I think that’s a good thing, but, at the same time, I think the pursuit of being the best is what we’re about here at Team Penske.

“I don’t think we feel like we’ve got that covered at the moment, so between the three (teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney) of us I think there’s still more that we want to get, but as far as the 2 car, I feel like we’re the best we’ve been so far. I think we’ve got our process down,” Cindric continued. “The communication is certainly the best it’s been, so I think all of those things are important when I’m racing against guys that have decades with that experience.”

Heading into this weekend at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, it’ll not only be Cindric’s first NASCAR Cup Series playoff experience, but also be his first shot at winning another crown jewel event, the Southern 500. 

Cindric, who finished 18th in May’s 400 mile race at the The Track Too Tough To Tame, feels Sunday’s race will be a new test for the 24-year-old. 

“I see the Darlington Southern 500 being the biggest mental challenge I’ve had in my career as far as races go, as far as race strategy,” Cindric said. “Obviously, you mix the playoffs into that.  I think you get the length of a race, at least the mental focus you have to have of the Coke 600 mixed with the discipline and the focus that you have to have to run long runs at Richmond and you’re on a knife edge at Darlington, so I think you combine all of those and it’s a pretty big challenge and something I’m excited to experience.”

Coming into this season’s playoffs, Cindric brings a rare achievement that only five other drivers in the 16-grid field own: A NASCAR Xfinity Series championship (2020). 

Cindric starts off the playoffs 14th on the grid, three points below the cutline. (HHP/Chris Owens)

The driver of the No. 2 Ford feels he’s able to use that championship experience to his advantage as he embarks on a new challenge at the Cup Series level. 

“I think there’s a similar mindset. The same amount of cars get eliminated, but you’ve just got an extra round,” Cindric said. “From that standpoint, I’d say all of that is fairly similar. Your competitors are different. I would say the biggest difference between Cup and Xfinity is that in Cup there is a strong likelihood that you are racing against guys that aren’t in the playoffs, whereas in Xfinity you’re racing all guys in the playoffs so everybody is getting stage points.

“There are really small margins to gain, whereas in the Cup Series I feel like there’s probably plenty of times you’re not gonna get stage points,” Cindric added. “Anytime you get stage points is a big deals, whereas it’s kind of expected in Xfinity with the field that you’re racing with.  I think it’s just the depth in the field that plays that role. Those stage points really make a large difference in advancing through rounds of the playoffs.”

As Cindric has been virtually guaranteed a spot in the playoffs since February, the Team Penske driver’s been able to focus on maximizing points days, and helping the team strive toward the postseason. 

“Last week was stressful for all of us at Team Penske, just trying to make sure we got all three of us in,” Cindric said. “Really throughout the summer still knowing that points were certainly important, so, from that standpoint, it’s a bit of a reset. I honestly feel mentally pretty good. I don’t feel like there’s much expectation plus or minus, so you just go out and try to put together three really great races and try and be consistent and try not to beat ourselves.

“That’s the opportunity – obviously there are past champions that aren’t in the playoffs right now, so, from that standpoint it’s not guaranteed that I’ll be in it next year or the year after or whatever else, so it’s a great opportunity and it’s a great opportunity in my rookie season and we just have to do everything to make the most of it.”