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June 4, 2024

Austin Cindric cherishes win, reflects on adversity of jump to Cup

Austin Cindric looks on ahead of a NASCAR race.
Sean Gardner
Getty Images

Austin Cindric proved his abilities once again after his miraculous, last-second win at World Wide Technology Raceway on Sunday.

The North Carolina native etched his name into the provisional playoff field after a final-lap advance past the No. 12 Ford of teammate Ryan Blaney, which ran out of fuel in Turn 4 just before the white flag waved. Although Sonoma Raceway is approaching quickly on Sunday, Cindric still took the time to celebrate his win accordingly.

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“Obviously, it’s a short turnaround, probably shorter than most weeks with Sonoma and cars having to leave this morning,” Cindric said of the upcoming trip to California during a Tuesday teleconference. “My guys didn’t have much time to turn around and we had to do the whole car yesterday, so we got all the families of the guys on my team together, pit crew, road crew and went out and had dinner last night. …

“It’s a pretty big moment for us and a lot of momentum for the team.”

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This winning feeling is nothing new to the 25-year-old driver, but it isn’t something he has experienced as frequently in recent years. Cindric drove his way to the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship in 2020 — and nearly to a second, if not for falling on the wrong side of a photo finish at Phoenix Raceway in 2021.

On top of his rich resume is a triumph in the 2022 Daytona 500, becoming the first rookie to win the “Great American Race” en route to earning that season’s Rookie of the Year honors as well.

Although Cindric proved himself to be worthy of a Cup Series ride, he never anticipated automatic success. In 2023, those moments of celebration became more rare.

“That is the first year since 2011 that I haven’t won a race,” said Cindric. “That’s a long time. That’s a really long time. … From a goal-setting standpoint, look, I didn’t expect to get into the Cup Series and go out here and win a ton of races right away against some guys that have been doing this for over a decade. …

A lot of it is a weekly self-check for me because there is a different way to prepare for a race if you’re gonna run from 10th to 25th versus 10th to first, whether that’s studying restarts, how different drivers drive, what decisions to make in traffic. Those are the types of things that my preparation has had to be a much wider spectrum of preparation because the racing is so different throughout the Cup Series field. This past weekend, there were cars that raced that race that I never saw the entire weekend. Usually, I see the entire field at some point or the other.”

Cindric now prepares for the road-course race at Sonoma Raceway this Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). He scored top-10 finishes at a plethora of road courses, including Sonoma, Circuit of The Americas and the Chicago Street Course.

MORE: Sonoma schedule

However, he still finds certain tracks difficult to tackle as a younger driver on the circuit.

I feel like Sonoma and Watkins Glen are probably two of the hardest road-course races to go into as a new guy,” Cindric said. “I mean, there are so many laps and so much experience from the traditional Cup Series field of drivers.”

The driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford is looking forward to this weekend, hoping the entire Penske organization can capitalize on its Gateway success despite a brutal beginning to the 2024 season.

“We have enough greatness surrounding us to know that we have all those ingredients,” Cindric said. “Obviously, it hasn’t been the best year for our Cup program as a whole, but you have to be ready for those opportunities and do what is necessary to take advantage of that.”