Cindric looks to bring his champion pedigree to the playoffs

Austin Cindric is set to make his first NASCAR Cup Series playoff appearance. (Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

Winning a crown jewel in motorsport is a life-changing moment for any driver.

To be presented as winner of the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500 or Southern 500 carries enormous weight.

However, this title raises high expectations.

Performance expectations at a high level are skyrocketing.

Although for Team Penske’s Austin Cindric, his expectations after winning the 64th Daytona 500 and securing a playoff spot in his rookie season are non-existent.

Cindric heads to the playoffs with eight top-10 finishes. (HHP/Chris Owens)

“I have no expectations,” Cindric said. “I had the same questions before the start of the season about my expectations for my rookie year and, honestly, I want to do my job. That’s the only expectation I have is to have a team that has all the resources and capabilities to be able to do that and we’ve certainly delivered on many occasions we’ve certainly had a great season if you look back and sometimes I have to take a step back that I’m running with guys who are having the best years of their careers and sometimes I want too much, so I think that’s a good thing, but, at the same time, I think the quest to be the best is what we’re here for to the Penske team.

“I don’t think we feel like we’ve covered that yet, so between the three of us (teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney), I think there’s still more we want to achieve, but in this As far as the 2 car goes, I feel like we’re the best we’ve been so far. I think we’ve got our process under control,” Cindric continued. “Communication is definitely the best that it is. has been, so I think all of those things are important when I’m racing against guys who have decades of experience.”

Heading into this weekend at Darlington (SC) Raceway, it will not only be Cindric’s first NASCAR Cup Series playoff experience, but also his first chance to win another crown jewel, the Southern 500.

Cindric, who finished 18th in May’s 400-mile race at The Track Too Tough To Tame, believes Sunday’s race will be another test for the 24-year-old.

“I see the Darlington Southern 500 being the biggest mental challenge I’ve had in my career as far as racing goes, as far as race strategy goes,” Cindric said. “Obviously you’re mixing the playoffs into this. I think you get the length of a race at least the mental focus you need to have on the Coke 600 mixed with the discipline and focus you need to have to run long races in Richmond and you’re on the wire razor in Darlington so I think you put it all together and it’s a pretty big challenge and something I’m excited to experience.

As this season’s playoffs approach, Cindric brings a rare achievement that only five other drivers in the 16-grid field possess: a NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship (2020).

Cindric begins the playoffs 14th on the grid, three points below the cut line. (HHP/Chris Owens)

The #2 Ford driver believes he is capable of using this championship experience to his advantage as he embarks on a new challenge at Cup Series level.

“I think there’s a similar mindset. The same number of cars are eliminated, but you just have an extra lap,” Cindric said. “From that perspective, I would say it’s all pretty similar. Your competitors are different. I’d say the biggest difference between Cup and Xfinity is that in Cup you’re most likely running against guys who aren’t in the playoffs, whereas in Xfinity you’re running all the guys in the playoffs , so everyone goes on stage points.

“There are very small margins to gain, whereas in the Cup Series I feel like there are probably many times you won’t get stage points,” added Cindric. “Any time you get stage points it’s a big deal, whereas that’s sort of expected in Xfinity with the peloton you race with. I think it’s just the depth of the terrain that plays that role. Those milestone points really make a big difference in progressing through the playoff rounds.

Since Cindric has been virtually guaranteed a playoff spot since February, the Team Penske driver has been able to focus on maximizing points days and helping the team get to the playoffs.

“Last week was stressful for all of us at Team Penske, just trying to make sure the three of us were there,” Cindric said. “Really throughout the summer knowing the points were definitely important, so from that perspective it’s a bit of a reset. Honestly, I feel pretty good mentally. I haven’t feels like there’s a lot of more or less expectation, so you go out and try to put together three really good races and try to be consistent and try not to beat us.

“It’s the opportunity – obviously there are former champions who aren’t in the playoffs right now, so from that perspective it’s not guaranteed that I’ll be there the year next or the year after or whatever, so it’s a great opportunity and it’s a great opportunity in my rookie season and we have to do everything to make the most of it.

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