Categories
XFINITY

Can Austin Cindric Solidify Himself?

The 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series season has been dominated by three drivers – Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, and Cole Custer.

While it is not confirmed these three will be racing for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it is likely.

However, there are still five other drivers in the playoffs, and at least one of them will also have a chance at the title. The lone question is who?

Now, while it’s been all about the “Big 3,” there has been one driver who has done well about proving himself this season. He is the only other competitor running for points that has more than one win.

This driver is Austin Cindric.

While he may not have the most impressive stats in the season, Cindric has been very consistent, and has even gotten better throughout the year. He started off with 13 top-10’s in the first 16 races, had a bit of a low point between Kentucky, New Hampshire, and Iowa II, before winning back-to-back road course events.

He hasn’t cooled off in the playoffs either; in the Round of 12, he never started or finished below third. If he repeats that in the Round of 8, he will be more than likely going on the Championship 4.

Again though  the question is can he? The momentum is there for Cindric; he just needs to capitalize

This is the opportunity to cement himself as a true contender, something that Reddick, who had a worse season up to this point, did last year. The next three races could prove monumental for Cindric, and could honestly set the tone for his NASCAR career going forward.

If Cindric continues to show his skill set, he not only proves that he should be taken seriously this year but next year as well.

After all, there’s a chance that Bell, Reddick, and Custer are all gone from the series next season, which would arguably make Cindric the best in the series. Now if he made the Championship 4 and maybe even won the championship this year, the momentum skyrockets for the No. 22 team, which again, would be huge for Cindric.

After all, 2020 is setting up for a prove yourself for Cindric, who has been tied with possible opportunities in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in the years that would follow.

What a bigger of a statement can be made than heading into next season, than a championship appearance this season. The opportunity to set all of this up starts this weekend at Kansas. It is make or break time.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Cindric Confident Leaving Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Austin Cindric may have missed the top-10 on Saturday night, but showed speed across what was a chaotic night at Las Vega Motor Speedway.

Most of his time was spent moving his way through the field, as he had to fight back from two pit-road penalties, and an unscheduled stop.

“Yeah, we just need to minimize mistakes, I think as far as the playoffs go, I think we got them all out of the way tonight,” Cindric told POPULAR SPEED. “But my guys dug me out of a lot of holes this year and last, so I got plenty of patience for my crew behind me. Really proud of the speed we have in my Money Lion Ford Mustang. Hoping to keep bringing it on later in the playoffs.”

To his credit though, Cindric was able to make the best of the day, capturing points in Stage 1 and 2 with a fourth and seventh-place finish. However, the unscheduled pit stop that came in the final leg of the race proved too much ato rebound from, and the driver of the No. 22 would have to settle for 12th place finish.

Now, you would expect more disappointment out of a driver who had a day like his, but that was not the case.
Instead, Cindric took a more positive route, noting how his ability to drive through the field showed that he and his team have the strength, and they could contend with the top teams in the series.

But, most importantly, that they are much more than just a team that is good a road courses.

“I think it makes a statement. I think it makes the right statement, shows that we’re here to play,” Cindric said. “Not to sound cocky but that’s some of the best speed we’ve shown all year on these types of tracks, and a track that’s very, very track position-dependent.”

The confidence shown post-race could prove to be a very powerful tool for him heading into the playoffs.

Something else that will very much aid Cindric is his seeding, as he will start the playoffs as the fourth seed and have 17 playoff points, five more than Chase Briscoe in fifth, and give him a big 13-point advantage of ninth.

With the improvement shown throughout the season, it will certainly be interesting to see if Cindiric can capitalize and fully cemented himself as an even bigger threat to win the championship.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

 

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Blaney Looking To Maximize Potential

LAS VEGAS — Entering the playoffs, Ryan Blaney is hopeful that the last ten races go better than the first 26.

The regular season proved to be tough for the driver of the No. 12, who score zero wins and will only have four playoff points to start with.

“Yeah, I mean I obviously like to have had a better year,” Blaney told POPULAR SPEED. “So far, you can always ask for better and do better and there’s some races I wish we would’ve had back, but at the end of the day, you know, it’s nice to be a part of the playoffs. And I think our team is plenty capable. I think we got a shot at making a good run and just can’t have any mistakes, things like that. I think we got the team to do it. Just a matter of kind of maximizing your full potential and see what happens.”

It is not all negatives for the 12 team though.

As Blaney said, the team has shown to be capable, scoring seven top-five’s and 12 top-10’s. He has also led laps, 384 to be exact, which is actually more than championship favorite, Denny Hamlin, who has only been out front for 373.

The 25-year-old will also enter the final 10 races with experience, as he has made the playoffs two of his three years of competition in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

“Experience never hurt, that’s for sure,” Blaney said. “I look at kind of the end of our playoffs last year and God, we had a terrible second round, just from run out of gas, getting wrecks and just barely missed it. And then we had a really great final three races, I wish we could have back. But at the end of the day, you just take all the experience you have and things are always changing, scenarios change. You’re rarely ever going to find yourself in the same scenario as before. Just the product of what we do. But yeah, you try to take that experience and apply it, utilize it well.”

Blaney will look to start his playoff strong at Las Vegas Speedway, where he has four top-ten’s in six starts.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Can Team Penske Recapture Late Season Magic At Darlington?

It is no question that Team Penske is a powerhouse in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. However, as of late, the organization seems to step behind some of the other top teams in the sport.

Brad Keselowski has not been to victory lane since his win at Kansas Speedway in May and has only had one top-five in the last seven races. His teammate Joey Logano had a win at Michigan International Speedway in June, but has had just three top-10’s and one top-five since including a current run of four straight events with a finish of 13th or worse. Then there is Ryan Blaney, who has yet to see victory lane this year and has only led 12 laps since Talladega Superspeedway in April.

It is not all bad news though, as the team is heading into a stretch of races that could be argued propelled them to their championship last season.

While many will remember the impressive run by Keselowski, who went on a three-race win streak starting with Darlington Raceway, but his two teammates were solid as well.

Logano finished runner-up in the Southern 500 and led laps in the playoff opener at Las Vegas before finishing fourth. Blaney was able to start a five-race streak of top-10 starts, and also scored a top-five in Vegas.

While stats are all fine and good, it is also worth remembering where this team was at a year ago which may bring feeling a sense of déjà vu. Why is this all sounding familiar? It is because of this a very similar position to where they were a year ago.

Team Penske was not the best team in the sport last year; they were again just behind a dominant team like Joe Gibbs Racing. However, after this upcoming three-race stretch, there was no questioning the ability of this team. They were the ones with the championship at the end of the season.

These are three drivers who get good when the pressure of the season begins to heat up.

Team Penske has had a driver in the Championship 4 in four of the last five season, despite not being the most dominant on a weekly basis. This is not anything new, which is important that we keep an eye on this team that is seemingly under the radar.

If they continue to follow the trends from a year ago, expect success from Penske in the upcoming weeks.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Logano Extends Points Lead In Chicago

JOLIET, Ill. – It was a solid Camping World 400 for Joey Logano and his No. 22 team, who scored a third-place finish in Sunday’s race.

The finish continued a long history of quality performances at Chicagoland Speedway, where the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion now has seven top-10’s in 11 starts.

Despite the positives though, Logano was still hoping for more out of the day.

“I feel okay about it,” Logano told POPULAR SPEED. “You’re never happy with third, but we’ll take it all things considered.”

The day itself was one of making up positions for the 29-year-old as he started the day in 19th. A poor performance in qualifying led to a difficult time gaining ground in the race, as he would finish the first two stages outside the top-10, gaining zero points.

However, as the race began to close so did Logano on the front runners, emerging in the top-10 and continuing to climb up the board.

Once in the top three, it looked as if he was going to march his way to victory, as he appeared to be one of the fastest cars on the track. That would not be the case though, as after laps and laps of trying to get around Kyle Larson, the No. 42 would pull away and battle with the leader, Alex Bowman, leaving Logano behind.

“The way we started this race, we were pretty slow and it took us about three or four stops to get the car close, so then we could start making up some track position and then eventually get ourselves into the top three there,” Logano said. “I thought we’d make a run at him there after that last green flag cycle. We had a great pit stop and caught the 42 and was racing with him and then the car just got tight there at the end and they drove back away.”

Despite not capturing the W, the finish does add another notch on an impressive season for a No. 22 team that now has nine top-five’s and, 12 top-10’s.

The day also allowed Logano to continue his now three-week reign atop the points standings. Not to mention that despite not scoring points until the end of the race, he increased his lead to 18 points over second-place, Kyle Busch.

Looking ahead, Logano will look to carry his momentum to Daytona International Speedway, where he owns one win at the track, and finished fourth there in the Daytona 500 earlier this year.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Cindric Finding Consistency In Second Season

JOLIET, Illinois — Through the first 14 races of the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series, Austin Cindric has quietly been among the best on-track.

The 20-year-old has 11 top-10’s and four top-five’s, which is currently places him fifth in the points standings. When asked what the key to his strong start, Cindric credited the consistency him and the No. 22 team have been able to have.

“I think consistency has been really important,” Cindric told POPULAR SPEED. “We’ve really only had, I think we’ve only had one DNF. As far as that goes, I think we’ve been really strong and being able to at least put numbers up on the board when we need to get stage points every race.”

Another place he has been able to find consistency is in his ride.

Last year, Cindric spent the entire season bouncing around between rides at Team Penske and Roush-Fenway Racing. That is no longer the case though, as he has been able to dedicate all of his time to one team in the No. 22.

“It’s been great to have continuity. I think a lot of things have changed for me during the week, during the lead up to a race, I’ve been able to get kind of a rhythm with my team, with my schedule, with my process,” Cindric said. “As far as preparation goes, I’m not really having to cram so much, not having to jump around town that much. Really being able to generate a relationship with the guys that I work with week in and week out. I think that’s paid dividends and consistency on track and obviously, we want to be winning races every weekend, and those steps are on the way and it’s about that consistency to make that step first.”

The consistency with his team has also allowed himself to apply the lessons he has learned from his rookie season a year ago, as he tries to gain ground on the “Big 3” of Xfinity in Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, and Cole Custer.

“As I start to learn more, and as I start to come to tracks I’ve been to a second time or a third time and really being able to apply what I know, there are things going throughout the year. I think it’s great,” Cindric said.

This weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, Cindric will have the opportunity to work alongside Joey Logano, and he is excited about the feedback that will be received from the most recent Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.

“This weekend we got a teammate with Joey, and I think I’ll be able to learn a lot from him from the driving side, as well as either get validation or, another direction that we can work on our cars,” Cindric said. “I think having him at a track like this is important. I haven’t had a teammate that often this year, so having someone to lean on is going to be nice. Being able to talk with him in between practices, get his ideas, get his feedback and really be able to use that as a resource.”

Looking ahead, the Ohio-native appears to be a lock for the playoffs; however, he is still looking to do more before the regular season comes to a close.

“The most important thing right now is to be able to generate playoff points, and that’s winning stages and winning races,” Cindric said. “So, we’ve got to be on it up front, and obviously we’ve got some road courses coming up and that’s a strength of mine.”

The upcoming races also play into Cindric’s wheelhouse, which includes multiple trips to road courses where he was constantly a contender a year ago.

“I feel like we’ll be able to have some opportunities to do that, but also to be able to get better on tracks that we know we’re going to be good at in the playoffs. So to be able to circle back and get ourselves in a good position. Hopefully, get some wins before the playoff starts. So, like I said, generate those playoff points.”

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Fierce Competition Makes Logano’s Championship More Impressive

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Joey Logano’s 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship will be remembered as one of the most impressive feats in history considering the strength of his competition.

This season’s headlines have been dominated by the historic performances from the big three drivers of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex JrAll three competitors put up record numbers over the course of 36 races.

Busch tied his career-high wins mark of eight set in 2008, scored 22 top-five’s, which is five more than ever before, and finished inside the top-10 28 times, beating his 2016 record of 25.

Harvick won eight events, three more than any other season in his career. He tied his 2015 record of 23 top-five finishes and 28 top-10’s marks the most in his NASCAR Cup Series tenure.

While 2017 remains Martin Truex Jr.’s banner year overall, he scored a career-high 20 top-five finishes in his final year behind the wheel for Furniture Row Racing.

Each driver accumulated a healthy amount of playoff points throughout the year as a result of this success and entered the playoffs as the favorites to make the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The only question that remained is who would join them to round out the field where ultimately, one race would decide which member of the big three would reign supreme. A victory at Martinsville meant they would face the assumed underdog, Logano.

It was not a record year for the No. 22 team as entering Homestead-Miami, they had two wins, 12 top-five and 25 top-10 finishes. All three statistics had been topped previously in Logano’s career in seasons that did not end with a title.

Additionally, intermediate tracks haven’t historically been Logano’s strong suit as his last mile-and-a-half win came in 2015 at Kansas Speedway.

In contrast, the big three won eight of the 11 intermediate races this season and captured three of the last four victories at Homestead-Miami entering Sunday, with those wins en route to the first and currently only championships for each driver. They had been in this situation before, faced the pressure, and left with the title.

This seemed to lend them the upper hand over Logano who had competed in the Championship 4 twice before but came up short each time.

While Logano emerged as a rising threat as the post-season progressed and self-titled himself the championship favorite at ISM Raceway, history and statistics were not on his side. However, the No. 22 crew overcame those challenges to capture Team Penske’s second title and the first for Ford since 2004 on Sunday.

The finale has not played favorites under this format as the fifth running featured a fifth different winner. While Logano may not have had the best season-long statistics, once in this race, it’s anybody’s game.

In a season that many predicted a big three champion, Logano outperforming three drivers putting up career numbers for the title is an upset story that will be remembered for years to come.  

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EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Cindric Optimistic With Current Schedule

JOILET, IL — For many, running a full season with multiple teams would be a tall order to ask. For Austin Cindric it’s become normal, as throughout most of his young career he has spent time jumping from ride to ride in various series. This year, he is splitting the NASCAR XFINITY Series schedule with Team Penske and Roush Fenway Racing.

“I have been pretty accustomed to switching back forth between teams. I’m not sure I’ve done the same thing two years in-a-row, or really ever in my career, so I’ve had the great opportunity to work with a lot of different drivers in a lot of different series in a lot of different situations,” Cindric told POPULAR SPEED. “I think that’s kind of played to my advantage this year with adjusting to different crews and different personal and different methods of doing things. I think it’s a best-case scenario for me trying to get a full season in.”

For a driver who is also a rookie in the series, the situation at hand oddly provides itself as a great learning tool as he has two championship organizations to lean on during his first full season in NASCAR’s second-tier.

“It gives me a lot of perspectives, especially going back and forth between Roush and Penske,” Cindric said. “Two really successful organizations in this sport and the way they do things between each is. Nothing right or wrong, just a process you have to go through as a driver within the team is just different and to learn from both processes and to be able to pull things out that I can apply to make myself a better driver has been a great opportunity.”

Through 15 races, the 19-year-old currently sits 10th in the points standings after facing both ups (five top-10’s) and downs (five finishes outside the top-20). Despite the inconsistency though he still holds a 90-point advantage over the cutoff. While his current edge over 13th should be enough to secure himself a spot in the postseason, his focus for the rest of the regular season is to put himself an even better position for when the playoffs start in September. A process that begins with winning stages and races.

“We are trying to get playoff points with stage wins and winning races, and obviously you want to run as well as you can, but we are really looking forward to trying to get as much momentum heading into the playoffs,” Cindric said.

After making the final four last year in the Camping World Truck Series, he believes he can accomplish the same this year and maybe even follow in the footsteps of Chase Elliott and William Byron, both of whom won a championship in their rookie season.

“I think we can be a championship contender and I think with the amount I’m learning each weekend and with the cars, we’re bringing to the racetrack, I really think we can be in the final four at the end of it,” Cindric said. “It’s all just building up to the playoffs and making sure we’re as prepared as possible.”

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Joey Logano’s Stock Continues to Rise

It’s crazy how fast the perception of a driver can change in NASCAR, especially for Team Penske’s Joey Logano, who has gone from the driver everybody was talking about, to now being overlooked.

How is this possible?

After three consecutive campaigns with multiple wins, Logano entered 2017 as a championship favorite among many. In the first nine races, he seemed to prove those assumption right, finishing in the top-10 in all but one event and had just grabbed his first victory of the year at Richmond. With a playoff spot presumably locked up, everything seemed to be going great for the No. 22 team. That was up until a few days after the win, where he was penalized for a rear suspension issue, resulting in the loss of all post-season eligibility earned from the previous weekend.

The penalty immediately killed all momentum Logano had, and he would go from contender to disappointment. In the next 17 races, he finished in the top-10 just four times, and led only seven laps in that period. All this resulted in him missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and merely vanishing off the radars of many because of it.

Now fast forward to present time, it seems as if Logano is well on his way of proving that the previous season as a fluke. He has performed well enough to sit third in the standings heading into the upcoming off weekend, but he still isn’t considered as a serious title threat and has been overshadowed by drivers with multiple wins. So, should he is a possible championship contender despite the lack of recognition?

Absolutely.

Now, that may seem like a stretch considering he has only won once and, it was at a restrictor plate track (Talladega Superspeedway) and hasn’t shown the dominance others have; but, his consistency is something that must be considered.

This is a team that has qualified great, ran strong, and maybe most of all, done well on off days. For example, in the three races that the 28-year-old hasn’t finished in the top-10,  but rather 19th, 13th, and 22nd. Where in comparison, the two strongest drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick, have multiple results outside the 30th or worse. Making something out of nothing has proven to be so crucial in this sport, and so far, Logano has been the best at it and if he can continue to do this in the playoffs, along with his consistent runs near the front, the odds of him being in the Championship 4 increase by a lot.

Not to get ahead of ourselves as it is only June, and looking at possible championship scenarios in November maybe looking too far forward. However, for the time being, the No. 22 team is a team you need to watch as they continue to rise and put a year worth of disappointment behind them.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Penske Off To Strong Start

It may be early in the 2018 campaign, however, what Team Penske, along with the aligned Wood Brothers Racing, has done has been impressive to start the season.

You see the transition to becoming a four-car team can be a difficult one.

While it may seem like a great idea to field an additional car for a talented driver, the risk has tended to outweigh the rewards. In some scenarios, one team will not perform to same standards as it’s teammates. In others, the entire organization takes a competitive step back from the success it once had.

Championship winning teams such as Richard Childress Racing, Stewart-Haas, and Hendrick Motorsports, have all faced issues with fielding four full-time efforts in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Three races into the new campaign, the four cars prepared in Team Penske shop haven’t skipped a beat. Given the significant changes they went through during the offseason, which included bringing Paul Menard to drive the No. 21 and creating an entirely new team for Ryan Blaney, it says a lot about them to be doing well.

The success has surprised some as they weren’t a dominant team in 2017 (winning only five races) and had a driver miss the playoffs (Joey Logano); many wondered if they would continue to fall behind their competition. Even Penske’s own, Brad Keselowski expressed concerns with Ford’s ability to compete with the other manufacturers. The 2012 champion went as far to say they could be in for a “drubbing.”

So, where do they stand after three races?

Two of the four drivers are in the top-five in the points standings (Logano, second, Blaney, third) and, Keselowski and Menard, are not far behind currently ranked seventh and ninth. Notably, they are the only team/alliance to have all drivers affiliated with them in the top-10 and while they haven’t won any races, yet, each week they have made their presence know.

Keselowski started off the year with a win in The Clash and has been the only driver not named Kevin Harvick to capture a stage in the last two weeks. Blaney, like his former owner, scored a victory early in the Can-Am Duels, and earning playoff points during the Daytona 500.

Meanwhile, Logano doesn’t own any wins or playoff points, but he may the most consistent of all, as he is the only driver throughout all of NASCAR’s top-tier series to score three-straight top-10 finishes in the opening three races.

Then there’s Menard, who many had written off after lackluster years at RCR, who has quickly adjusted to his new role at Wood Brothers Racing, with two top-10s (one less than he had all season) and has seemed to pick up right where Blaney left off.

The team’s early success should be taken note of because if they are doing this good now, they may get better as the organization continues to adjust to the changes. You look at how expansion turned the Joe Gibbs/Furniture Row Racing alliance to a dominant force in 2017; it’s not far-fetched to think Team Penske can do the same.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.