Austin Cindric has been knocked back into reality.
Cindric, as you might recall, started the NASCAR Cup Series season on the highest of highs by winning the Daytona 500. That was February 20 and in the immediate aftermath, the 23-year-old became a shining star pulled in all directions, thrust through obligation after obligation and oh, lest we forget, still trying to develop a relationship with his race team.
It was anything but a typical start to the season for a rookie. And it’s taken until just recently for things to settle down enough to allow Cindric to begin to feel like a rookie getting his bearings in NASCAR’s top division.
“Honestly, starting last week was the first time I really had a normal week leading up to a race as far as not traveling during the week and a lot of different variables,” Cindric says. “From that standpoint, yeah, it’s been great to get a process down that I probably haven’t had the luxury of the first couple of weeks of the year.
“The honeymoon phase is certainly over; trying to figure out (being) a rookie in the Cup Series. It certainly isn’t easy.”
While it’s been nonstop for Cindric away from the public eye, on the racetrack, he’s been almost out of sight and out of mind since leaving Daytona Beach. Results for the No. 2 team have been up and down, although a close look at the loop data (specific performance metrics) suggests Cindric is finishing about where’s he’s running each week.
* Fontana: avg. position 10th, finished 12th
* Las Vegas: avg. position 20th, finished 19th
* Phoenix: avg. position 20th, finished 24th
* Atlanta: avg. position 21st, finished 32nd
* Circuit of the Americas: avg. position 11th, finished eighth
* Richmond: avg. position 18th, finished 20th
Cindric failed to finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway – in a wild weekend where drivers faced a revamped 1.5-miler that raced like a superspeedway, Cindric was one of 31 drivers involved in incidents. The second incident that Cindric was caught in on lap 202 was the one that knocked him out of the race.
The eighth-place effort on the road course at COTA on March 27 was Cindric’s first top-10 finish since the Daytona 500. It was also the first race since Daytona where he’d led laps.
As Cindric and his Jeremy Bullins-led group has started to get into a rhythm, they’ve found themselves dealing with the same thing the rest of the competition is. The biggest on the agenda, of course, is Next Gen.
“It’s trying to figure out a new car and new situation and put that on top of new competitors and new team members,” Cindric says. “There’s a lot of newness for me. A lot of that is an opportunity to grow, but in some ways, it’s good to have a new environment. But otherwise, just adapt and react and try to make the most of it and on the bad days, learn and on the good days, be happy they were good.”
The good news for Cindric is that no part of the process has been too surprising.
“I don’t think so,” he says. “I think for me, mentality-wise I’m working with a very, very different group than I was last year, and that’s not for better or worse. It’s just different people that react and respond in different ways.”
Cindric led the point standings through the first two races but has since fallen to 15th. Not that it matters in the big picture since Cindric knows he’ll be in the postseason, but in regards to performance, the reality is that while Cindric is comfortable with where the team is and what it has, there is still work to do.
“I think it’s a little early to tell as far as if we’re to overreact to anything,” he said. “But it’s a really tight-knit group on the 2 car, so I’m just trying to integrate myself into that and get ourselves a process going, which I think is important. We’re a couple of races in and there’s been some good and some bad, and we’ll learn from it.”