Pressure? What Pressure?
NASCAR driver Austin Cindric could be excused if he admitted that much of the pressure was off for 2021, anyway. The defending NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, after all, has a secure ride for this season with a return trip to the Xfinity Series with Team Penske this year with promises of a full-time ride in the Cup Series in 2022 with Wood Brothers Racing.
Cindric is scheduled to replace Matt DiBenedetto at Wood Brothers next season. That stop at the Wood Brothers, if all goes according to plan, is likely a stepping stone to a full-time ride in 2023 with Team Penske, where dad Tim Cindric is the team president.
This month, Austin is getting his feet wet—actually he’s diving in head first—into the Cup Series in a fourth Team Penske entry for the Daytona 500. It’s an entry that is not guaranteed a spot in the race. Because it’s not a chartered ride, Austin will have to race his way into the race through qualifying and the Daytona Duels qualifying races.
While he doesn’t have to impress his dad, the folks at Team Penske, or even most of the fans (last year’s six wins, 19 top-5s and 26 top-10s in 33 Xfinity races for Penske took care of that), there are still those who say Austin is where he is because of who is.
“For me, I guess it’s not up to me to figure out what other people think,” Austin said on Monday. “I’ve accepted that and I feel like it’s probably been a good lesson for me to accept early in my career. Otherwise, it’s just about me doing the job. I’ve got a lot of people that have a lot of confidence around me and that’s built throughout the last three years racing for Team Penske and I think I’m in a really good spot.”
Austin Cindric will try to qualify the No. 33 Ford Mustang for the 500.
“I’ve got a team that believes in me and a shop that can back it, so a lot of people doing a lot of things for me this year as well,” he said. “It’s pretty humbling as I kind of looked at rosters for this year and kind of realizing that there are two full teams that are dedicated to me and my competitiveness and what I get to do this year.
“It’s pretty cool to have that support. I feel like that adds more pressure than anything else. Forget about who my dad is, it’s having that many people dedicated to helping me win races, so I’m excited for that. I’m excited to have another group of people to work with and learn from, and have teammates in the Cup races that I do. That’s something I haven’t had in a long time, so looking forward to being able to learn at a quick pace.”
Cindric, 22, will have two shots at qualifying. The traditional single-car qualifying this year is on Feb. 10. The Daytona Duels qualifying races are Feb. 11. The Daytona 500 is set for Feb. 14.
Cindric has raced six times at Daytona International Speedway over the past three seasons. He’s had a best finish of fouth place, while he’s crashed out three times. This year’s Daytona 500 would be his first Cup Series race start.
“For me, I guess it’s not up to me to figure out what other people think.”
“I think anyone who makes plans at superspeedways do it because they’re nervous because there’s no way to prepare for these races,” Cindric said. “There’s no way to prepare for those scenarios. Qualifying is significantly important for both of our opportunities to make it into the race, but also where we start in the Duels.
“I think we’ll play it as it goes. If I get in the race, hopefully I can help those guys get stage points and try and fight for a race win and get a Penske car and a Ford into victory lane for the Daytona 500. There’s a lot of work to still do, but there are definitely a lot of different scenarios and a lot of things you have to prepare for, and sometimes it will come down to the small details. Hopefully it doesn’t have to come down to missing big wrecks and the things you’re accustomed to seeing in speedway racing, but you definitely have to be prepared for.”
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