#22: Austin Cindric, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Menards/Richmond

At 19-years-old, Austin Cindric is trying to achieve a dream many young racers in his position try to accomplish. Cindric is moving up through the ranks to one day compete in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Despite being a teenager, Cindric has already built up a resumé that consists of competing in a variety of racing series around the world. From open wheel to Australian Supercars to Global Rallycross in addition to NASCAR, Cindric has dabbled in many forms of racing.

After racing occasionally in the Camping World Truck Series, Cindric began racing full time in NASCAR in 2017. Racing for Brad Keselowski, Cindric had a rough start to the season but rallied right before the midway point and put together a run of top 10 finishes in 14 out of his final 15 races in the season. Cindric’s highlight that season was his first career win in Canada but it also brought on some controversy among fans and fellow drivers because of how he won.

On the final lap, Cindric moved Kaz Grala out of the way and spun him out in order to win. To some, it was seen as a move for the win and other drivers have made similar moves for years. Others saw it as a move that was way too aggressive and Cindric never gave Grala the chance to correct his truck and try to come back.

Most people saw the latter and I think even Cindric would agree to an extent. But while so many people wanted to look at it from an outsider perspective and give a very simplistic answer, it’s not that simple.

Put yourself in Austin Cindric’s truck. Two weeks before the Canada race, Keselowski announced that he was ending operations for his team at the end of the 2017 season. And with that, Cindric had an unknown future. In this current point structure where winning is all that matters because that’s how you get into the Playoffs, it’s pretty much all or nothing. Fans want to see that kind of racing where first place is the only place worth getting and second is just the first loser.

So in that instance, why should Cindric or anyone else be criticized for making the kind of move he made for the win? If that was for any other position, sure it would’ve been too far. But it was for the win. Denny Hamlin’s shove on Chase Elliott at Martinsville was a similar example. With so much that’s now on the line, you gotta do what you gotta do. That’s the reality of NASCAR racing today whether we like it or not.

If there’s one thing to know about Austin Cindric, it’s that he’s very self-aware. He knew that spinning out Kaz Grala wouldn’t win him any popularity contests among drivers, the media or fans. But in his situation in Canada, being out of the Playoffs and needing a win; his team shutting down and having no clue where he would be racing in 2018, not making that move and ensuring himself of a win could have ended his NASCAR career before it even started. One could still be against what Austin Cindric did as long as they understood why Cindric did what he did in that situation.

After finishing third in points last season, Cindric moved up to the Xfinity Series in 2018. Cindric is racing a full season but it’ll be tough having to race three different cars throughout the season. Sure, Cindric is racing at Roush Fenway Racing and Team Penske and the two teams have a partnership, but Cindric has to work with three different crew chiefs and three different crews. When it’s important for a driver and crew chief to develop chemistry and at times not developing that chemistry for months or even years, Cindric is going to have to work with one of three crew chiefs every race. And that’ll be a big test for him this season.

I sat down with Austin Cindric at Dover International Speedway where we talked about his family, his progression through NASCAR and that day in Canada. And since we had our interview on May 4th and he’s a big fan, the two of us geeked out about Star Wars.

Phillip Bupp: I saw at Talladega, you were in some unfortunate circumstances running out of fuel while up front on the final caution. How frustrating is that to be in position to win and circumstances not going your way?

Austin Cindric: I can look at it two ways. I can be frustrated that I almost won but you think of the guys that have almost won on a superspeedway so I’m not going to lose too much sleep over that. I do think I’ve had two weekends now between Richmond and Talladega that I’ve been in a spot where I feel like I’ve been a contender for a win. So that’s where I want to see myself every weekend, just being able to carry that momentum and hopefully carry it into this weekend as well as the rest of the year.

PB: I also thought that strategy kinda played into it. Because you guys were going on a different strategy and that got you up front so it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.

AC: Yeah, without a doubt.

PB: Now you’re 19 and you grew up in a racing family. Your father is Tim Cindric (Team Penske president and strategist for Josef Newgarden in IndyCar) and I didn’t know this until I did my research, your grandfather is Jim Trueman [Owned Bobby Rahal’s 1986 Indianapolis 500 winning car and died of cancer days after winning]

AC: Yes, sir. You have done your research. Many don’t get that far.

PB: Oh yeah [laughter]. Was racing your main path growing up? Was there anything else you were looking at or was racing the thing?

AC: I mean, I was always about racing. It was more the family trips we do in the summer that were completely oriented around racing. I mean, I played basketball, I played lacrosse, I did cross country in middle school. I did other sports but racing has always been my passion and obviously it’s taken me this far to pursue that passion.

PB: What many people know you for, and you probably hate talking about it by now, was last year in Canada. Credit to you, you took all questions and met everything head on and you even acknowledged that in the situation [needing to win to make the Playoffs] you were in, it’s not what you wanted to do but what [else] were you going to do? Is that still your philosophy when going for the win?

AC: Without a doubt. That day was not necessarily going for the win, it was getting myself a shot at a championship. I mean, I had to get in the Playoffs somehow and that was the only pathway. And honestly, that’s paid dividends for me later down the road. Obviously, that put me in position to go for a Truck championship and make the Championship Four. And I feel like if I don’t put myself in that position, I don’t have a full season in Xfinity this year. If I don’t put myself on that stage, against all those guys and show what I can do on that platform.

PB: You got your sponsors, you got your team rooting for you and you got so many people behind you that it may not be the best thing to do but if I was in that situation, I might’ve done the same thing.

AC: Exactly. So I think that’s paid dividends for me and obviously everyone wants to win just as much as the next guy. But for me, it’s risk versus reward to put yourself in those positions and thinking later down the road “How is this going to benefit me?” and “How is this going to help in the short term?”

PB: Have you and Kaz talked it out since?

AC: Kaz and I grew up racing together so we’ve known each other for a while, we’re friends. It’s so far in the past, it’s kind of one of those things where you almost laugh about it sometimes. We joke about it every once in a while and we’re fine.

PB: Now [the day we conducted the interview] is May 4th, Star Wars Day. I know you’re a huge Star Wars fan.

AC: Yes, yes. Very big day. Got my Star Wars socks, got my Chewbacca socks, my Darth Vader t-shirt, I’m full-on today.

Austin Cindric’s Star Wars socks and shirt he wore at Dover.

PB: What’s your favorite movie?

AC: So I grew up in the prequel era. So I gotta say Revenge of the Sith was kind of the pinnacle. I know everybody rips on the prequels but I’m still like, the whole Episode III and all that, that was like the pinnacle of my childhood so I would have to say Episode III.

PB: To anyone who might want to watch for the first time, what do you think is the right order to watch them?

AC: I’ve always wanted to test this out on a human, a test subject. See what their reaction is starting out on Episode I and what that would be like versus starting in chronological order starting at IV and working your way down and back up. I’ve always wanted to find the perfect person to try that on.

PB: Just go prequels and then the older ones and then the newer ones.

AC: Yeah. You’d have to see that progression.

PB: Favorite character?

AC: So when I was little, I’m going to show how much of a geek I am, I had an action figure that was Plo Koon. Many people probably have no idea who Plo Koon is. But Plo Koon was my favorite character for a long time. I’m a big Mace Windu fan, Samuel L. Jackson and definitely Obi Wan. Obviously, those are all prequel characters but you gotta love Chewbacca too.

PB: Looking forward to Solo?

AC: Very much looking forward to Solo. I think some of the actors they picked are going to be surprisingly good. I just think the aura around the movie is very Star Warsy. The scenes they seemed to have picked out, the people they picked for roles. I’m a Game of Thrones fan as well and seeing Emilia Clarke in there, that’ll be pretty cool I think.

And, it’s going to be the coolest week of the year and I’ll tell you why. Because on Thursday, we practice Xfinity at Charlotte, movie comes out Thursday night, drive to the movie theater after practice. Friday, we have the day off, going to go see it again on Friday. Saturday, we race Xfinity, drive up to the speedway, watch the Indy 500 on Sunday. Best weekend of the year.

PB: What else are you interested in away from the track?

AC: We’ve covered racing and Star Wars, that about covers it. [laughter] I live close to the lake so I go paddle boarding every once in a while. There’s some trails so I do some mountain biking. Play some Fortnite with some of my buddies, just normal stuff. But I’m pretty consumed into racing, that’s for sure.

PB: With our site covering a variety of sports, there may be some people reading who are diehard NASCAR fans, casual fans or even non-fans [or people starting to become fans]. Now that you are progressing through the sport, what would you say to someone for them to be an Austin Cindric fan?

AC: Just from the basis of [being a NASCAR fan], you gotta come to a racetrack. You gotta come to experience the event in person. Obviously, you can watch it on TV and most fans who are diehard fans watch it every single weekend because they’ve had that experience at the racetrack.

For me, I’m a racer’s racer. That’s how I look at it. I’ve driven in just about every type of discipline that you could get in with four wheels. I’ve enjoyed all of it, I’ve been successful in all of it. I don’t have a favorite, I don’t pick favorites. I love driving, I love racing and I think that shows with what I do on the track, with how I interact with my team and my competitors. And I still race just as hard, but I love every bit of it. I love driving and that’s maybe a reason to be an Austin Cindric fan.


PB: And going into that, you’ve already raced so many different types of cars. Saw you raced at Bathurst, Global Rallycross, open wheel, sports cars. Has that helped you in NASCAR?

AC: With the short amount of time I’ve been in NASCAR racing, if I didn’t have those experiences in so many different disciplines, that’d be like a football player going to play rugby and then going to play Australian rules football. It’d be like trying all those different things that are sort of similar and you can pull back from your back pocket little things that you know. But it’s all about being able to react and adapt and being able to be jumping into so many different things and be able to react and adapt to these situations so quickly. I think that’s really helped me accelerate my learning curve in NASCAR so much.

This is my second full season in NASCAR and I’m one step away from the highest level. That’s almost scary to think about but it just shows how much I’ve been able to use that other experience. I may not be able to directly be able to say the four-wheel drive Rallycross car that I used to jump over jumps and go through dirt turns and street courses [will translate to NASCAR] but just being able to jump back and forth through some of those, being able to adapt has been huge for me. You see it with guys like Kyle Larson, some of these guys that come from dirt. Their ability, I’m not comparing myself to a dirt guy because I don’t have their mentality, but that ability to adapt to a certain situation I think has really benefitted me in the short term figuring out what makes me fast.

PB: You’re in a full season in Xfinity, driving for three separate teams between Roush/Fenway Racing and Team Penske. This is just a wild question, have you ever gotten yourself confused and walked into the wrong hauler during a race weekend?

AC: Ah, I don’t think I’ve gotten confused. One of the hard parts is if you’re in between a Roush and Penske week, I don’t know what shirt to wear [during the week]. Like, I don’t know what team gear to wear. [laughter]

PB: What sponsors to wear that week, yeah.

AC: I workout at Penske every day so I’m at Penske every day anyway. And then the race week side, I’m racing for Roush so I’ll spend a lot of time at their shop as well. But the ones I’m not, I’m not over there as often. Just try to prioritize throughout the day where you gotta go. It’s more something through the week like “What do you do?” The team shirt like “What do you wear during the day” [laughter] is like it’s so hard to figure out. I only have so many Ford t-shirts but they’re all good problems to have.

May 20, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Verizon IndyCar Series car owner Roger Penske watches in the pits during qualifications for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

PB: With Roger Penske, he’s got teams in just about every form of motorsports. Indy 500? Down the road, is that something you want to do?

AC: I’d love to. You know my grandfather Jim Trueman, you know my dad’s history with the speedway so I’ve grown up around it. That’s been my favorite race since I was a little kid. I can’t hide from that. So if I ever had the opportunity to do that race, I’d be all for it. Obviously, it would have to be the right situation and the right timing but if I ever had the opportunity to do that, just to experience that.

I mean, I’m already geeked out the fact I’m going to go race the Brickyard in an Xfinity car so just being able to do that, to drive the “right way” around the speedway. I’ve done the road course but being able to do that, go through the short chute, that’d be pretty cool for me personally.

[Photo: Team Penske]


About Phillip Bupp

Producer/editor of the Awful Announcing Podcast and Short and to the Point. News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. Highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @phillipbupp