Austin Cindric is seeing 2019 in a different way than he has in past seasons. Cindric has been racing full-time in NASCAR since 2017, but has raced in different vehicles each season. And in the case of last season, Cindric began his Xfinity Series career racing three different cars for Jack Roush and Roger Penske.
No doubt, racing for two Hall of Fame owners is an honor and racing multiple cars for an entire season is better than driving one car for a partial season, but it probably wasn’t ideal for Cindric, who got through that first season with three poles and seven top fives. His eighth place finish in the championship wasn’t really indicative of his great run in the Playoffs. A first lap crash in the Round of 8 torpedoed his Championship Four chances even though he finished third and fourth in the other two races.
In the Playoffs, Cindric stayed with the #22 and crew chief Brian Wilson, and that has paid off tremendously as they remained together for 2019. After six top 10s in the final eight 2018 races in the #22, Cindric has four top fives and eight top 10s in the first 10 races. A more consistent racer, the 20-year-old is ever closer to tasting victory for the first time in Xfinity and really be a force for the championship.
Cindric talked to The Comeback during the Dover race weekend where we discussed his great start to the season, Team Penske at the Indy 500, and because we conducted the interview during May 4 weekend and he’s a fan, we talked a little about Star Wars.
[NOTE: Interview was edited for clarity.]
Phillip Bupp: Apart from a late crash in Vegas you’ve pulled off some great finishes, six top six finishes. Where do you think this improvement in form has come from since last season?
Austin Cindric: Obviously having consistency with the team, sponsors, support. Your process with every weekend obviously pays its benefits, and we’ve had a pretty consistent start to the year. Obviously, being able to lead some laps this year and contend for a couple wins but really being able to knock out those consistent top five finishes and really make that our norm is a really solid basis for what we’re trying to accomplish this year.
PB: Does the added experience and knowledge you’ve picked up after having a full year in Xfinity help?
Cindric: Yeah. No doubt. I mean I can come to at least most tracks on the schedule knowing what I need to get out of my race car and really what to expect. There’s quite a few races that I still haven’t raced at with this team but I feel pretty confident in my own notebook and as well as our notebook to really put heads together and make stuff happen on race weekends and really come up with a solid process.
PB: Runner-up finish at Richmond, led a lot of laps at Talladega, do you think that first win is coming sooner rather than later?
Cindric: I hope so man. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to win races, we’re not here to run second or knock off top fives, but you got to do that before you win races. I think we’re making the right steps in the right direction to be able to do that. The most important thing is making it to the Championship Four. Guys have done that without winning races, but it sure makes my life a lot easier to do that and obviously be able to try, and come on strong in the right part of the year and build up a solid foundation in the early stages here.
PB: Speaking of Talladega, you avoided the wrecks, got a top five but it had to be bittersweet because you were up front all the time and then it seemed like the last couple laps everyone decided to stay high and you want to try to go down low and kind of missed out on the Dash 4 Cash. Not only not winning it last week but missing out on it [at Dover]. It had to be bittersweet for you.
Cindric: Yeah. It was one of those things and it was the MoneyLion 300, which is our sponsor. We had everyone from MoneyLion there and like you said, ran up front most of the day and became a force in the race. You come home with a top five and solid stage points and it’s a good day in the big picture. At the same time, you’re right. It’s tough because you know, in a different situation you would have been fighting for a win but we were contributing at the end of the race pushing Tyler to the win but after that everyone pretty much vacated to the bottom lane after the guys behind me were pretty soft behind and anyone else who’s strong enough, pulled up to the top and tried to motor on by and honestly we were lucky to come away with a top five but sometimes that’s how you go.
PB: Is that situation where, the people are kind of afraid to make the first move?
Cindric: Yeah, well, once two or three people either have a bad restart or aren’t able to get going or maybe there’s some less competitive cars there. Everyone’s spotter is starting to say, “The top lane’s got more momentum, the top lane’s got a run. Find your hole.” And you got 20 other guys having the same message put in their ear. It’s a pretty easy decision at that point and you’re, kind of left down there. I thought more guys were going to be able to materialize and try to make moves to the front. It just never worked out to have a full lane. Like I said, sometimes it doesn’t work to be first, sometimes it does.
PB: I know it’s a cliché but I think one more lap and that bottom lane was coming through.
Cindric: Yeah, either one more lap and it would of, materialized or one more lap-
PB: And you would have wrecked.
Cindric: One more lap I would have been 20th. ‘Cause I side drafted for the life of me to stay fifth.
PB: And then you almost got, I think you almost got third. You had three cars side-by-side.
Cindric: Yeah, we were about a foot away of crossing the line and finishing in the top three but that’s how it goes.
PB: It’s the month of May, you’re on Team Penske. You’re focus on yourself and your racing but the Indy 500 is at the end of the month. How do you think Penske is going to do?
Cindric: I mean, we’re talking about team Penske and the Indy 500, I hope we do pretty well.
PB: Yeah, 50 years [of Team Penske at Indy].
Cindric: That’s right, 50 years. I love being able to be part of this team. Obviously this is a really special month for our boss. And especially, they grew up on the Indy Car side. I will go to the 500 again this year. Race on Saturday, in Charlotte and fly up Saturday night real late to make it to the 500. It’s kind of a family tradition at this point between me and my family [Austin’s father, Tim, is president at Team Penske and is strategist for Josef Newgarden] and the be able to cheer our boys on and hopefully one of them gets in the winner circle.
PB: And last year Will Power won, so it’s family tradition to be in Victory Lane.
Cindric: Yeah, heck yeah. No, that was way cool to be there and see Will win. I’ve been able to watch his career as a fan. That was big moment for him and obviously see, how excited he was, when he got out of the car. That’s a lot of release and I think that’s really helped him since that moment. It’d be cool to see Helio [Castroneves] win his fourth. I think that’s the moment a lot of race fans are looking for and I’ve known Helio since, I was two years old. It’d be cool to see that happen.
PB: I know you’re a big Star Wars fan, we talked last year, you had the Chewbacca socks and the Darth Vader shirt.
Cindric: That’s right.
PB: Doing anything special this weekend for [May 4]?
Cindric: Man, I guess I dropped the ball, I did get… We do have a sticker on the dash. My pit codes, may or may not be Star Wars themed. I don’t know yet. They’re covered up by the Rebel Alliance logo. So I’ve a hunch. Since we do race on May the 4th. R.I.P. Chewbacca.
But no, definitely looking forward to the offseason. Seeing what they got in store for [Episode IX].
PB: Getting close to the second half of the season. The regular season, talked about getting in position to win the title. Is that the ultimate goal this year?
Cindric: Yeah, heck yeah. You don’t show up to just run. I don’t think saying, our goal is to win the championship because so much can happen in one race at Homestead. Obviously, you want to win the championship but the most immediate goal is to position ourselves to make it to the Championship Four. That means playoff points, that means being consistent. And tracks like Dover, because this is a cutoff race and it’s important. It’s nice to be on, knowing we can run well in Richmond. ‘Cause that’s the first race of the playoffs and obviously we gotta get the points to fall back on, back on the Roval.
So for us, I’ve seen this weekend so far, it should be a good first round for us but you got to be able to build up a notebook and understand what it takes to be even better, when they come back. Even the guys that you beat in the spring race, they’ll be wanting to come back at the end. So you got to constantly learn and evolve. As yourself as a driver and as team or the cars.
There’s definitely a lot to be gained this weekend from that sense.
PB: Got to be a good sign. You ended the season well last year, even though you weren’t in the Championship Four. You know that has to be a motivator that could use, you know, if you do get in that situation at Homestead this year.
Cindric: Yeah, no doubt. I think Homestead’s better drive for me. Obviously, when you think of Homestead and the Xfinity Series, you think of Cole Custer. So he’ll be really hard to beat down there but as far as making it there, we kind of got robbed in the first race of the final round of the playoffs. Had really strong runs in that final round, two tracks that are really strong for me. At the same time, as I talk about strong tracks. I don’t think there’s one track that we have gone to this year, that’s been a negative for us.
PB: That’s true.
Cindric: We’ve been able to run top five on road courses, super speedways, mile and a halfs, short tracks. You name it. So, I think that’s really the strength of our program.
[Photos: Phillip Bupp]