With his long-term NASCAR plans sewed up weeks before the end of the season, Austin Cindric believes the advantage for him is knowing where to put his focus.
Cindric will stay in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford in the Xfinity Series next season while making select starts in the Cup Series. Then, in 2022, Cindric will graduate full-time into the Cup Series and take over the famed No. 21 Ford at Wood Brothers Racing.
At just 22 years old, Cindric has job security and the ability to prepare for the future.
“(I’m) very grateful and appreciative of that kind of an opportunity,” Cindric said Tuesday afternoon. “By the same token, it’s kind of funny – Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports announced in 2000 that Jimmie was going full-time with Hendrick in 2002, so a year ahead of time and a very similar situation for us. Hopefully, I can translate some of that success he’s had, but overall, giving me a year to know what to focus on, whether that’s physically, mentally, on the racetrack.
“They talk of how durable the Xfinity cars are and how they drive, but I’ve really watched and understood what things would get me in trouble in Cup races and try to prevent those things from happening in Xfinity races, whether it’s wall contact or how you race other guys and so on. Things like that I’ll continue to be able to perfect, which I think is a great opportunity. I think it’s a great opportunity for the group of guys I work with currently to be able to really refine the small details, which I think we’ve already been doing this year. Another year is a great opportunity to (continue to do so).”
When Cindric’s deal was announced on Oct. 8, it was revealed to be a multiyear extension with Team Penske. Cindric began driving for the organization in 2017.
Cindric will have put in four full years in the Xfinity Series before moving to the premier level. He has shown impressive improvement each season by not only improving his overall finish in the points standings but in each statistical category, from laps led to top-10 finishes and wins. In the last two seasons, Cindric has won seven races, and he is still eligible for the championship going into the elimination race at Martinsville Speedway (Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC).
What Cup Series races he’ll appear in during the ’21 season have not been outlined, but expect it to be a handful. And when Cindric does make his first foray into the series, he will do so in a Gen6 car that will be obsolete soon after that.
“I genuinely like the opportunity of being able to drive the current car at least for a few races, purely from the fact that everyone knows and expects that every rookie Cup driver is going to struggle in some ways and has to learn a lot,” said Cindric. “I feel like it’s easier to learn in a car that’s been proven year after year after year, where the team I’m driving for has an incredible notebook, and the drivers I’ll be teammates with are incredibly talented and know what these cars need. I’ll be able to learn at a quicker rate, or at least learn what my weaknesses are better driving races in the current car.”
NASCAR pushed the rollout of Next Gen to 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is an all-new car that Cindric knows will mean both opportunity and challenge, especially for a Cup Series rookie. But no matter, Cindric is eager and excited for his future.
“I think it’s a really great opportunity that I’m going to be able to drive (next year) in a proven car in a proven environment and with drivers that have really refined their skills in that type of car,” Cindric reiterated. “Then, obviously, take whatever I learn in those races next year and apply them to 2022.”