By: Ashley McCubbin
After winning the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship, Austin Cindric is set to embark on the next step of his racing career, behind the wheel in the NASCAR Cup Series of the iconic No. 2 Ford Mustang for Team Penske.
The North Carolina native recently spoke about his thoughts on the NextGen car, his upcoming rookie campaign, and more with NEWS FROM THE PITS.
ASHLEY MCCUBBIN: What are your thoughts on the NextGen car so far?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Obviously, we’ve had a fairly comprehensive testing schedule for the day, and a lot of it been in conjunction with NASCAR in all the teams and drivers getting together and understanding different aero packages and different stuff with the car to create the best package – but have the best freedom in how to drive and what makes the most sense. That’s been kind of new and fun for me, from an industry standpoint, but obviously a lot to take in a short amount of time. It’s defiantly kept the off-season pretty busy.
ASHLEY: What has surprised you most about the car?
AUSTIN: With the tests that we’ve had, I’ve been surprised with the tire fall off. You’d think with the car having a bigger tire and the fall off at most of the different tracks that we’ve headed to has been quite a bit in a short amount of time. I think some of that is being the car fairly new to everybody, and not being able to know what makes it run really well yet. But at the same time, you can look at it as a fan and think it will put more into the driver’s and team’s hands in knowing how to manage that stuff.
ASHLEY: There are still a couple tests scheduled prior to 2022. What are you hoping to accomplish in those?
AUSTIN: Our last test coming up before the start of the year is at Phoenix – I’ll be able to do the first day. That’s the only opportunity for us to drive at a short track, and obviously Phoenix is a non-traditional short track. It also carries a lot of weight in the playoffs being a playoff race, the championship race let alone. So there’s a lot to be accomplished in a short amount of time.
ASHLEY: For your rookie campaign, what are your goals and expectations heading into the season?
AUSTIN: I’m not sure that I’ve necessarily set any goals or thought too far ahead; I haven’t given myself the luxury to do so. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the car and obviously working with a new team, and new crew chief in Jeremy, and a new spotter. There’s a lot of new stuff for me so I think my goal remains the same – I try to keep an open mind in what I’m able to accomplish.
The more that I can put myself to contend for wins and top-five’s, the more consistent we’ll be. That was my mentality and my approach in the Xfinity Series and it will be a lot harder to accomplish that at the Cup level – but the more consistently I do that, the more I will identify strengths and weaknesses and getting stronger.
ASHLEY: Now, that car you will be driving will feature the iconic No. 2, which we know has a lot of history with Team Penske, whether that be Brad Keselowski or Rusty Wallace. What does it mean for you to carry that number?
AUSTIN: There’s never been a rookie in the 2 car, plain and simple. It’s definitely a new chapter for that car, myself, and for the race team so I’m excited for that. It’s a great source of pride for me – I wouldn’t say it’s a motivator. My job is still the same as it would be regardless, and it has been in the past. But there’s a sense of pride in being able to do that with it being Mr. Penske’s foundation in NASCAR. Excited to start the next chapter for the car, and write the next chapter for it.
ASHLEY: Speaking of 2022, what are your thoughts on the schedule?
AUSTIN: The schedule itself is very demanding. We have one off-week in June and everyone that I tell that to raises some eyebrows, but we have a great set of diverse race tracks, a lot of places that I enjoy going to. Going to Gateway for the first time will be exciting.
Obviously, the first race of the year at the L.A. Coliseum – obviously that being an exhibition race with the Clash, but I think that’s the race that’s getting the most talked about it and as it should be as it’s quite unique and I think the event will be very special. I have no idea what the race is going to look like, and I’m not going to spend a lot of time thinking about it because someone is going to win it so might as well figure out how to do that.
ASHLEY: Beyond the L.A. Coliseum, what track are you most looking forward to?
AUSTIN: I’m defiantly looking forward to returning to the Daytona 500. I think I will have a better opportunity to enjoy the opportunity. Last year between doing double duty and having to race my way into the race not having a charter being a fourth entry for the team, and then winning the Xfinity race the day before – there was a lot going on my first Daytona 500. So I’m looking forward to enjoying that process a little more.
Otherwise, if there’s any track on the schedule that I’m looking forward to, it’d probably be Road America. I really enjoy going there. I think the first Cup race there was great. Obviously, we were able to lead some laps and it’s a track that fits really, really well on the NASCAR calendar.
ASHLEY: If you could make one change / addition to the schedule, what would that be?
AUSTIN: I think as much as I love racing on a weekly basis, I think having a chance to have more than one week off would be better. A lot of my competitors would agree because they have wives and kids. I don’t have any of those things, but certainly gives some time to reflect. None the less, off the top of my head, I can’t think of one thing or another. Adding a street track would be cool, or another short track to the schedule. Otherwise, we have a pretty good mix.
ASHLEY: There’s also the reveal in watching practice return – 20 minutes each week. How beneficial will that be for you being a rookie?
AUSTIN: I’m not going to sit here and tell you it won’t be beneficial. At the same time with how practice is being laid out, we won’t have a lot of practice time and have very little that we can adjust through practice. I don’t think the rules have been set for that, but it’s more a warm-up before we go into qualifying. Either way, we’re not returning to what we had before and I think with the new car, new surroundings for me, it will still be a challenge. But anytime on the track before any points are earned is a benefit for everybody.
Categories: ashley asks...., Interview, NASCAR Cup Series
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