Assessing Austin Cindric’s rookie year so far: ‘Everyone has the same challenge’

As first impressions go, Austin Cindric definitely made a name for himself early on in the NASCAR Cup Series.

While his first start at the Cup level came before February’s Daytona 500, it was his first as a full-time driver in NASCAR’s premier series.

Cindric’s surprise Daytona 500 victory looked like a moment where the Team Penske driver inserted his name first in the hat of championship contenders. It’s no shock that the 23-year-old Cup rookie would be in the mix early given his 2020 Xfinity Series championship, and had it not been for Daniel Hemric’s move in the final turn at Phoenix Raceway to take the title by a few feet, Cindric would’ve entered the series with back-to-back Xfinity championships like Tyler Reddick in 2018 and 2019.

RELATED: Road America schedule | Cindric’s route to Daytona win

However, since adding his name to the Harley J. Earl Trophy, Cindric has gone through some rookie woes. He’s only scored three top 10s dating back to Circuit of The Americas in March.

“Some weeks are good, and some weeks are not so good,” Cindric said. “It’s somewhat of a common feeling throughout the field. You start to figure out more and more of what the car wants and then you show up one weekend and it’s completely out of your expectation.”

With the Next Gen car, Cindric said you could assign a mulligan to his rookie year with how much there is to learn but added that everyone is on a level playing field.

“The way I see it, everyone has the same challenge,” Cindric said. “It’s just as easy and just as hard to screw it up. It’s going to be the car I’m racing for quite a while, and you don’t really get to choose when you move up.”

While the numbers aren’t gaudy at the halfway point of the season, Cindric is still currently locked into the playoffs with his lone victory at Daytona, and with three more road courses on the circuit before the postseason, there are still opportunities aplenty for him to solidify his playoff position with a second win.

The Cup Series heads to Road America on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the Indianapolis Road Course at the end of July, and then Watkins Glen International on Aug. 21 — the penultimate race of the regular season.

Cindric owns Xfinity wins at all three upcoming road courses and had an average finish of 8.7 in 10 combined starts.

MORE: Cup Series standings

He’s also one of just four Cup drivers to score a top-10 finish in both road-course races this season (eighth at COTA, fifth at Sonoma). Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain and Chase Elliott — the current top trio in the Cup Series standings — are the other three.

“Road America and Indy are pretty special to me,” Cindric said.

Cindric is the lone Penske driver in the Cup or Xfinity Series to score a win at Indianapolis since Penske Entertainment Corp. bought the track in 2020. Austin’s father, Tim, serves as the principal of Team Penske.

Austin will head to Road America coming off back-to-back top 10s at Sonoma and Nashville Superspeedway but said that it doesn’t necessarily equate to momentum.

“Past success doesn’t equal future success,” Cindric said. “If you’re calling a top 10 a success, then I could just as easily as well run outside the top 10 at Road America so I’m not looking at it as a gain.

“The last couple months we’ve been able to show some consistent speed at different types of race tracks. It’s just having that consistent speed throughout the weekend that’s been the thing I’ve tried to grow and hone in on. Execution in these Cup races is everything.”