After a 2018 season that included bouncing around between two teams, Austin Cindric feels at home with Team Penske to begin the 2019 season.
The 21-year-old driver of the No. 22 Ford in the Xfinity Series spent some time with Frontstretch recently to discuss the importance of continuity in the sport, having a plethora of experience racing at a young age, having his father and last name associated with “daddy’s money” and more.
Davey Segal, Frontstretch: You’re running full-time this season in the No. 22 for Team Penske. After balancing two teams last season, how nice is it to be locked down with one team for the entirety of the season?
Austin Cindric: Continuity is huge especially in my position as a young driver. Trying to figure out right versus wrong and really how to develop yourself a s area later in a lot of aspects. But really to get the experience that I did last year jumping back and forth between the No. 22, the No. 60 and the No. 12, being able to work with different people, picking and choosing the right information to apply. I think it’d made me a better driver because of it. I definitely think it forced me into more mistakes last year than you’d see me make during the course of a race season. But I think I’ve developed a lot quicker as a driver than it probably showed.
Segal: Why do you think jumping around helped you? On the surface, you’d think it’d be tougher to get used to everything these different people say…
Cindric: From a performance side I’d agree and say its more of a compromise position. But if you put a young driver in the best stuff for his entire career, and then the first time he gets in a Cup car it’s not the best thing in the world, where do you start?
I think for me, at least compared to guys in that situation, that’s an ideal situation as a driver. If they’re a good enough driver they’ll figure it out once they get to that level. For me, I feel like I’ve experienced that earlier on in my career. When it comes to disaster recovery and trying to piece together a race weekend, I know how to prevent it from going wrong because I’ve seen it go wrong.
Segal: You’ve raced a bunch of different cars in a bunch of different divisions all over the country. How do the Xfinity cars compare to everything else you’ve done?
Cindric: It’s so different. Anything you do with stock car racing, its shard to find a gauge. But if I was Sports Car or Rally Cross racing, you’re racing the track. You’re racing the car you’re in but there’s so many different factors in NASCAR racing that depict your performance and perceived performance versus what you know about your own performance. You see guys like Ross Chastain not being in the picture. Then he gets himself in a good car, and he’s developed himself as a driver in lesser equipment, and when he gets in something that can win, there he is. It’s not like he’s a new guy, he’s been doing this since I started racing.
Segal: It’s just the first time people are seeing him run up front in a competitive car.
Cindric: And you don’t find those guys until that opportunity comes. Obviously the one I’m in is great with Team Penske. To be able to have that opportunity in my career, I’ve definitely gotta make the most of it but at the same time develop myself and not put too much pressure or rush the experience.
Segal: What are realistic expectations for you personally as a driver this season?
Cindric: I feel like in today’s day and age, you can’t expect yourself to win a championship. You can expect yourself to get to the final four. And whatever happens in that one race happens. I mean you would’ve looked at that race last year and said Christopher Bell is hands down winning the championship. They had a bad race at Homestead and don’t win.
I think I’m a driver and we’re a team that is capable of making the Championship 4. I’ve been in that situation before and I don’t feel like there’s anything that would limit us from doing that. As far as this season, I definitely think we’ve gotten off to a solid start.
Segal: Out of all the cars you’ve driven, could you pick out one that’s more badass than the others?
Cindric: When it comes to car junkies, you’ve gotta look at some of the Sports Car stuff I’ve done. But I think some of the coolest projects I’ve been on is when you develop a race car that’s based on a street car. When I raced for Ford in IMSA in 2015, we developed the GT 350 RC, which is basically the competition version of the road going GT 350 R, that car was basically made so we could have a rear wing on the race track. I’m sure it was made by plan, but because it had a rear wing it completely balanced our car.
So in the development and homologation process of this car, it has this huge front splitter on the regular Shelby, but our version has this rear wing. Stuff like that has been really cool for me to experience at a young age. To develop racecars and apply that. I think it would’ve been harder for me to jump into NASCAR as quickly as I have without having that prior experience that I had.
Segal: The Cindric name at Team Penske is synonymous with winning. How cool is it to work with your dad?
Cindric: He’ll be the first one to tell you that he tries to stay as far away from my program as possible. From the aspect that I’m his kid, but I’m here to do a job and be representative of all our sponsors. I don’t take that lightly, I don’t think he does either. I can’t say that from a competition side we’ve interacted that much. I’ve got a great support system with guys like Travis Giesler and Mike Nelson on the NASCAR side. He’ll give me his two cents if I’ve done something wrong or whatever, but that relationship has been a fun dynamic.
Segal: Does it piss you off when people think you only got this ride because of your dad?
Cindric: I think it’s a double-edged sword. This is such a family sport. you’ve got the Elliotts, Blaneys, Earnhardts, all the Pettys, these are all people—even someone with a pretty similar situation to myself is Cole Custer. It’s a family sport, that’s where the passion is grown.
I’ve been lucky enough to grow up in the same house who finds the best drivers in the world to drive the best cars in the world. I’ve been able to learn from those drivers, from those experiences and from being around that my entire life, what I need to do to put myself in the best position, whether that be a Team Penske car or a Sports Car somewhere. That doesn’t come easily. The door isn’t opened for you.
Segal: You’re one of the taller guys in the NASCAR garage. You used to play basketball, didn’t you?
Cindric: I was probably in fourth grade when I stopped playing at a competitive level. I’ve played pick-up ball a couple times with Chase Briscoe. Austin Dillon has a charity tournament every year. My problem is I can’t shoot. That’s a key aspect to the game of basketball. I can rebound really well, I can do layups, I can defend. The rest is —I try real hard—but I’ll stick to driving.
Segal: What do you guys need to do better to get over the hump and find Victory Lane?
Cindric: I think we’ve been able to run consistently fourth-seventh all year. There’s a lot of guys who’d kill to do that, but I want to go out and win races every weekend. Figuring out what I needed to do from end to make that possible. Obviously getting feedback and from the team side, what can we do to grow throughout the year.
It’s a long season, and its such a hard thing to remind yourself. You realize what your mental state was a couple races in 2018. You realize how far along the road is. The summer feels like you’re really getting into the grind of things and changing for better or worse. I’m looking forward to seeing that that growth and development looks like by the end of 2019 and what the storyline holds.