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Austin Cindric (Kent Steele photo)

Johnson Has High Praise For Cindric

CONCORD, N.C. — When Jimmie Johnson retired as a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver following the 2020 season, it signaled a “passing of the torch” moment in America’s No. 1 stock car series.

The generation that included Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Johnson had all left the sport and it was time for a new generation of drivers to fill the void.

Since Johnson’s departure, eight different drivers have scored their first NASCAR Cup Series victory. That list includes Bubba Wallace, Tyler Reddick, Ross Chastain, Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell, Danial Suarez, Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe.

Out of that group of first-time winners in the past two full seasons, Johnson is most impressed with this year’s Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric of Team Penske.

“Somebody that I think the world of and has a very bright future in his first year is Austin Cindric,” Johnson said. “He has been so competitive in anything that he has driven. I spend time with him at the go-kart track (Go Pro Motorplex in Mooresville, N.C.) and I share a stall with him where our go-karts live. I’m rarely there; he’s there a lot more than I am.

“His dedication and focus to the sport, I’m really impressed with his focus and dedication.”

Those words mean a lot to young Cindric, who enters Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series BankofAmerica ROVAL 400 tied with friend Chase Briscoe at the cutoff line to advance to the Round of 8 in this year’s playoffs.

“It’s really cool to have the seven-time champ and the GOAT (Greatest of All Time), Jimmie Johnson, say something nice about you is cool,” Cindric said. “As far as race prep goes, he is exactly right. I put just as much into everything whether it is racing the go-kart track or trying to make it into the Round of Eight in the Cup Series playoffs as a rookie. I try to leave no stone unturned every weekend.

“When you hear about playoff intensity and putting the best effort in, I can promise you I’m doing that all year. Even when it’s something as simple as going to the gym. I can physically last the race all weekend, even if I don’t work out for the next two weeks. But to me, it’s a mental thing. Being prepared and having the peace of mind to know that I have done everything to be ready, makes me perform at my best.”

Cindric will need to be prepared for Sunday’s raucous contest at the ROVAL will be important if he wants to have a chance to fight it out for the championship on Nov. 7 at Phoenix Raceway.

That’s the site of where Cindric won the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.

“It’s a road course with an asterisk,” Cindric said of the ROVAL. “There is a lot of differences in that track as far as setup with the car. It’s a different animal. It asks for something out of the car we haven’t had to do in the Next Gen car.

“It is a long race. Holy Cow. It is very long for a road course race. It’s going to be a very, very long race and mental toughness is very critical.

“I haven’t been great on the road courses this year, but at Team Penske I believe we are heading in the right direction. It has to bear fruit this weekend.”

Cindric looks forward to battling his longtime friend Chase Briscoe at Stewart Haas Racing.

“It’s a fun way to look at the weekend,” Cindric said. “There isn’t anyone I would rather battle than Chase for that spot, but the bigger picture is more than the 14 car (Briscoe).

“There has been a lot of crazy stuff happen in these playoff races. You have to make it to the end, and you have to get the points and see where it shakes out. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out at the end.

“Best case scenario, we both make it to the next round, but where the points are now, that’s probably not likely.”

Austin Cindric (Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

Cindric has developed this “Be all you can be attitude” from growing up in the Team Penske system. His father is Team Penske President Tim Cindric. When Austin was younger, he grew up around famed drivers such as four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, Gil de Ferran and Sam Hornish, as well as NASCAR Cup Series champions Rusty Wallace and Brad Keselowski.

But it was the way team owner Roger Penske prepared himself and the team that left its biggest impression.

“Growing up around Roger and Team Penske and the drivers and my father and everybody that does things the right way here and goes that extra mile, that’s been a standard for me,” Cindric said. “It’s not the extra mile, it’s the only way to get things done.

“That example for me has paid a lot of dividends I probably didn’t realize until later in life. That mentality and way of going about things, doing all you can do, leaving no stone unturned is a great way going through life, being productive and getting the best out of yourself and the people around you.”


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