After splitting the NASCAR Xfinity Series season between two different teams last year, Austin Cindric will enjoy the continuity of working with Team Penske every weekend in 2019. He recently shared his thoughts entering Daytona and the season, along with some other things, with POPULAR SPEED.
POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts going into Daytona?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: I’m going into it with an open mind. Obviously, it’s an incredible opportunity for me this year to be full-time with one team with MoneyLion coming on-board, which is a great plus for us. Ready to kick off the year, and hopefully on a good note to carry that momentum through the rest of the season.
PS: With the craziness of Daytona, are you planning to go after the win, no holding back, or a conservative approach?
AUSTIN: I think the biggest thing is looking into Daytona, I’ve never been finished a stock car race there. I got as close as I could last year, and I ended up flipping. So I’d like to finish a stock car race at Daytona; that’d be the first goal. That’d be the first way to get to victory lane. Secondly, I think we’re going to have a fast car and I think we’re going to be in the mix for a good spot at the end, as long as we survive through it all.
There are a lot of different ways to approach it, but for me, the closer you are to the front the safer it is, and anything past that you have to be on your toes.
PS: As a whole, what are your thoughts on the upcoming season?
AUSTIN: Like I said, I come into it with an open-mind. I think the playoff run that we had was strong, and I think there’s a lot of things for me to improve on that even still. I look on building the last few races that we had together, as everything is the same – plus or minus a few people, so there’ s the continuity there so we can build off what we accomplished and apply it to the rest of the year.
I think it’s an incredible opportunity for me to contend with the best of the series sand hopefully run for a championship.
PS: Based on the races that you were able to run last year with Team Penske, what do you feel that you need to do better this year to put together a perfect playoff run come the end of the season?
AUSTIN: I think it’s about executing races, and I feel when we got to the playoff run, we were executing week-in-week-out as a group. So glad to see that progress after what was a pretty tough summer. Then moving into the playoffs, it was a good turn of events for us and while it didn’t go our way, I felt like we were better and plenty capable of being in the final four, and I think we’re capable of doing that this year. So it’s just about applying those things learned and being able to execute when it counts.
PS: Past Daytona, what track are you most looking forward to getting to?
AUSTIN: I’m excited for Atlanta. I always like going there. I wish we went there twice a year; I think everybody does. Moving forward, there’s a few tracks that I wish I could hit the do-over button again from last year that we had a lot of strong runs, like the road courses and Iowa (Speedway). Those are ones that are circled on my schedule just because we ran so well there and didn’t finish where we wanted to.
I’m not in particular excited for a certain track, but just excited for the next one and doing the best that we can. Every time I ran with them last year, we’ve been strong at every different type of track and been able to finish inside the top-five, big tracks and small tracks. It’s one of our strengths and I look to exploit that.
PS: Now, what track do you wish was on the schedule that currently isn’t?
AUSTIN: I wish we went to Gateway and ORP. Those are two tracks that I enjoy going to. Obviously my background is more road courses than they are, but as far as ovals, I like the short ovals and short track racing. I also like some of the mile and a halves that we go to, like Atlanta. Like I said, I wish we went there twice a year.
Then again, I also like the big fast tracks like Texas and Kentucky. I know some guys have mixed reviews, but Kansas was recently repaved and now everybody is right up against the fence. I’m looking forward to seeing how Texas has played over the winter, and how that plays out.
PS: If you were in charge of NASCAR for one day, what is one change that you would make to improve the sport?
AUSTIN: That’s a pretty big question. I’m not sure I’m the one to answer that. If I was to make the sport better for one day….i think you got me with that question. I haven’t put much thought into that. I’m more of a part of the sport, not the sport kind of guy.
PS: So pretty much focus on the job at hand and let everything fall into place as it may….
AUSTIN: That’s right.
PS: Nothing wrong with that. Now, we’ve seen a lot of drivers try a bunch of different series and cars, including yourself. So what’s out there on the bucket list still?
AUSTIN: The bucket list is big. I’ve been very lucky at a young age to do a lot of different types of racing. I probably have the most diverse background when it comes to types of cars and types of tracks than other guys in the field, between rallycars, sportscars, and so on. I’ve been able to enjoy that range of experience and that has helped me a lot of in my career.
I think I look at races and things to do, obviously running in the (Monster Energy NASCAR) Cup Series and the Daytona 500 – those are obvious immediate goals. It’d be awesome to run the Indy 500 one day. I’ve got a lot of family history there on both sides of my family, and I’m very passionate about that race and event. I think it’d be cool to run the Baja 1000, Bathurst 1000 in V8 Supercars, 24 Hours of LeMans – you name it, I want to do it. I’m a racer, it doesn’t matter what type of car.
PS: Who was your racing hero growing up?
AUSTIN: I grew up around the IndyCar and going to the tracks with my dad (Team Penske President Tim Cindric) and rooting on Helio (Castroneves), and Gil (de Ferran), and Sam Hornish. Those guys were my heroes because they were right in front of me, would give me high-fives, would shake my hand as I grew up around the sport.
Another person I was able to grow up around is Rick Mears, and he’s been a lot of help to me in my career. Obviously, he still works for the team on the IndyCar side with spotting and offering driver advice. He’s been really cool to have in my court, and obviously super respected for what he was able to do as a driver, but also off the track. He’s been a privilege to really have a long with me for the ride.
PS: Given your racing experience to date, what is one piece of advice that you’d offer to those coming up through the ranks?
AUSTIN: I think this encompasses everything, between racing and life. There’s a lot of different things that you can learn in racing and sports that help you life, but don’t be afraid to be different. You obviously have to do the important things right and better than anybody else to the best of your ability. That’s the only way you’re going to be better than anyone which is what we’re trying to do in sports, right? The only way to do that is to be approaching it different with a different mindset.
That’s how you see people succeed and move forward, and differentiate themselves. For me, that’s what my career has been about – differentiating myself from drivers my age, drivers with the same goals, and putting myself into situations other people wouldn’t be in. it’s kind of a driver’s mentality and you have to start swimming, and sometimes you’re just hanging onto the fire hydrant at some stages trying to absorb as much as you can.
In some ways, it’s tough that way because you’re really under a microscope like I was last year. With that experience, I feel a lot more prepared than last year and ready to do my job because of what I learned last year in some situations. I’m excited to apply that directly, and hopefully I can show that’s what help me get here.
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