By Cole Cusumano
AVONDALE, Ariz. — Austin Cindric, son of Team Penske President Tim Cindric, entered the lower ranks of NASCAR as a road course specialist. While the popular assumption is the 22-year-old was grandfathered into a career of racing due to his name, it’s quite the opposite. The six-foot-three driver sought a career in motorsports, even though his parents would try to scare him off by saying he was too tall.
By a result of determination and enormous work ethic, Cindric has shown the racing world he’s more than just a name. Prior to the 2020 season, the developmental Penske driver had only secured road course victories within NASCAR’s National Series ranks.
Not only did Cindric prove he could win on oval tracks with his first at Kentucky Speedway, he made a statement. He clicked off two more consecutively and capped off the year by dominating the series finale at Phoenix Raceway and becoming the NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion.
Internal growth and the aspirations of success within the sport were the biggest contributing factors to Cindric’s success in 2020, but he’s not done seeking more now that he’s a Champion looking ahead to 2021 and beyond.
“I think for me it’s a lot of the small details that the guys on Sunday do really, really well, whether if that’s projecting where the track is going to go or understanding what they need out of their car to be versatile,” Cindric told POPULAR SPEED. “Those are things that I will continue to hone on. But next year is not going to be easy. Winning races is not going to be easy.
“On paper there’s not a whole lot left, but for me there’s a lot more left to study, and I’d like to hope to find myself at a capacity where I can stay at the track on Sundays and watch from the spotter’s stand. That was my goal initially to start the year, and I honestly think that helped me for this race. I stayed for the Cup race on Sunday, stood on the spotter’s stand and watched the whole thing and picked up a lot of things that I felt like either worked or didn’t work for me in the race and gave me a lot of time to brainstorm.”
At the initial start to the season, Cindric had come close to victory, but wasn’t quite able to overcome the hurdle of winning on an oval. It was the resumption of racing following the indefinite halt due to COVID-19 when Roger Penske believed the initiative for expeditious progress was heightened.
During this period of uncertainty, Penske didn’t even know if they could continue to field Cindric in the Xfinity Series. Once the developmental division for NASCAR continued, the 22-year-old started clicking off wins and never looked back with pressure and a murky future mounting.
“I think Austin obviously knew that he had to show what he could do,” Penske said. “And I think that his focus and really when you think about Brian Wilson (crew chief) and that whole 22 team, what they’ve been able to do, work together — Austin is committed. He’s at the shop with those guys. He works with them. He’s focused.
“You could see today that he was flawless. Restart after restart, green-white-checkered at the end, he’s a pro, he’s a champion today, and I think that one more year in this series is going to prepare him to get into Cup, and I think you need that stairstep to get there.”
Cindric’s Championship winning crew chief, Wilson, also praised his young driver’s strive for success by his ability to absorb and relay information throughout their professional relationship dating back to 2018.
“I feel like it’s been a three-year process of us working together,” Wilson said. “ Austin does a great job of giving feedback. He does debriefs. We’ve got a long history of notes, very detailed notes. It’s just the work that he puts into it as far as the homework of making sure that he does the debriefs and then the week of we make sure we study them. We’ve tried to build a team around him that really embraces that.”
Cindric will have another year to perfect his craft by defending his Xfinity Series title with Team Penske next season. He feels he’s got many more lessons to be learned before moving to the famed No. 21 Wood Brother Racing Ford in 2022, but he’s as ready as ever to continue his progression.