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August 11, 2020

Loyal but looking, Xfinity standout Austin Cindric aims to firm up 2021 plans

Austin Cindric’s otherworldly run through the last five NASCAR Xfinity Series races — four wins and a runner-up finish — has vaulted him to the lead in the points standings and raised his profile. Any perception of the 21-year-old driver solely as a road-course specialist no longer holds.

Cindric ranks as a hot commodity among the crop of Xfinity Series prospects, but said Tuesday that his plans remain uncertain for the 2021 season without a signed contract in hand. He’s currently aligned with Team Penske, where his father, Tim, serves as the organization’s president. But in a Tuesday afternoon call with reporters, the younger Cindric indicated that he’s opened his search for a steady gig outside of the Penske umbrella, all while the NASCAR industry navigates a challenging economic climate and an ever-evolving adaptation to the COVID-19 outbreak.

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“It makes those conversations a lot more difficult and a lot more noncommittal,” Cindric said, referring to the 2020 landscape, “but at the same standpoint, I think I’ve always approached it this way and it’s probably the first time in my NASCAR career that I’ve really had to go outside and understand what’s out there, just because I have been fortunate to be within the Penske camp and the Ford camp. …

“At the same token, I have a great deal of loyalty to Ford and Penske and if I can do anything to stay within those camps, I feel like that’s mutual. I think we’re going to do it, but you know how difficult it is to work that, especially this day and age, is the current challenge. For me, I’m not doing myself any service if I don’t go out and understand what’s out there. Squeaky wheel gets the oil, that’s the case and you’ve got to pick up the phone and not expect it to ring. Having success while you’re doing that is great. That makes those conversations easier to have and easier to convince people you’re the guy.”

Cindric is in his third Xfinity Series season, moving to Team Penske full time in 2019 after one year of splitting time with Penske’s group and Roush Fenway Racing. He broke through for two wins and four pole positions last year before going on his current tear, a rise that’s made him a prime candidate for promotion to the NASCAR Cup Series.

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Team Penske’s Aug. 3 announcement that the organization had signed Brad Keselowski to a contract extension means that its three-driver roster is secure for 2021. Only Matt DiBenedetto, who drives the Penske-affiliated No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, is a looming free agent. In terms of the Ford banner, the automaker has another top prospect in Chase Briscoe, who leads the Xfinity Series with five wins this year for Stewart-Haas Racing.

While Cindric says his bonds with both manufacturer and team remain strong, he said he’s staying focused on being competitive and anchoring his long-term future in stock-car racing.

“I’ll continue to work hard on the weekends and work hard during the week to understand what’s the best pathway to take me,” Cindric said. “Obviously, I’ve had a lot of loyalty within the Penske organization. I mean, I wouldn’t be at this point without them and Ford Performance. Those two relationships have really brought me here as quickly as I’ve kind of come up through the NASCAR ranks, so I’d love to be able to stay within that camp, but at the same time, I’m focused on trying to figure out what the next steps are in my career in NASCAR because it’s where I want to be, it’s where I want to stay and it’s where I’ve put the most effort in the last couple years. I’m pretty motivated at that.”