BRISTOL, Tenn. – The way Austin Cindric’s night started Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway, no one would have expected him to advance to the Round of 12 in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Cindric blew a right-front tire on Lap 85 of the Bass Pro Shops Night Race, which dropped him multiple laps down before the race even reached the 100-lap mark.
He entered the race only two points ahead of Kyle Busch for the final place in the Round of 12, making the flat tire, and a second one that came later in the race, exceptionally devastating. In the end, that same margin carried him forward into the next round of the postseason.
Cindric ended the first stage 35th in the 36-car field, but slowly, he began clawing his way back into the fight.
“For a while it was just drive as hard as I can,” Cindric said after racing his way into the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. “As they fell off likes flies, I tried not to force any issues, tried not to force any more right-front tire failures.”
The moment that eventually put Cindric into the Round of 12 came on Lap 269, when the engine in Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota expired. Suddenly there was a glimmer of hope for Cindric, but it would take him nearly the rest of the race to overtake Busch in the standings.
“I think I was tied with the 18 for 100 laps,” Cindric said as he let out an exhausted laugh. “Just one hell of a night. I still don’t think this place loves me back, but it probably showed me a little mercy tonight.”
Cindric eventually crossed the start/finish line 20th, seven laps behind winner Chris Buescher. However, combined with Busch’s 35th-place finish and Tyler Reddick’s 25th-place finish, it was enough for Cindric to squeak into the Round of 12 by a whopping two points.
Reddick and Busch ended the race tied with 2,067 points and were the first two drivers who missed advancing to the Round of 12. Reddick’s night was derailed when he was collected in a multi-car crash shortly after a restart on Lap 278.
Cindric’s attention immediately turns to the Round of 12, which begins next Sunday with the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The Round of 12 also includes events at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 2 and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL on Oct. 9.
“I feel like it’s a great chance for us to do something that most people don’t expect, and that’s make the Round of 8 and have a shot to go win a championship,” Cindric said. “I’m on offense from here on out.”