Austin Cindric knows he raced like a self-described bonehead the last few laps Sunday at the Charlotte Roval, but he was in desperation mode to advance in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
It didn’t work out the way he hoped.
Cindric and the No. 2 Team Penske group were eliminated after a wild overtime restart and a 21st-place finish. Although he made it through Turn 1 on the final restart, he drove hard into the backstretch chicane and spun. It’s unclear if there was contact with Erik Jones, whom Cindric was battling on the outside.
The spin was the final nail in the No. 2’s championship chances. As his car came to a stop in the chicane, it faced the field that Cindric watched drive by and knock him down the leaderboard.
“Very, very crazy,” he described the final laps. “I would not recommend doing restarts with 30-lap older tires, compared to everybody else, that have less grip. It was just crazy, and being only a couple spots ahead [of the cutline], I was fighting for everything I had. My driving standards were probably a little bit lower than I usually like keeping them, but [I was] just desperate at that point.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures. We were in a really great position before that first green-white-checkered. We had a few-spot margin and had a decent gap behind. The caution came out, and I felt like that sealed our fate in some ways. Even then, I was one point out and needed the spot and tried to get it. I didn’t get myself clear, and it was just a mess on the back chicane, so, overall, definitely some things I feel like we could have done better to execute today, but I definitely feel like we could have some more progress with the car. But, otherwise, great to be part of it and have a shot. We’re still coming to the final race; it’s just unfortunate we didn’t finish.”
There were two restarts in the final 10 laps. A caution flew with six laps to go that set up a restart with three laps to go, and at that point, Cindric was battling with Chase Briscoe and Kyle Larson for the final transfer spot.
The final caution flew before the leaders took the white flag, setting up overtime. Cindric, Briscoe, and Larson were still in a tight battle for the final spot and Cindric needed all the positions he could earn as Briscoe started making up ground. Even before the spin, Cindric was going to be on the outside looking in without someone else having an issue.
“My guys did a great job all weekend,” he said. “We had a long shot, but had a shot at it and kept ourselves in the game. Obviously, I had a great shot at the end. That last caution really stung because we would have been in without that last caution. Old tires against new tires. I wish we would have had probably some better track position and probably do a few things right here and there, but, overall, great to have a shot, great to be in the playoff picture.
“I learned a lot in my rookie season racing against a lot of the best. I was a bit of a bonehead on the last couple restarts just trying to make something happen with 30-lap worse tires than everybody around me, but, overall, great experience but just a little bit short.”
Cindric made the playoffs as a rookie after winning the Daytona 500. While he would have liked to have gone further in the postseason, he acknowledges it’s not an easy or forgiving format.
“If we have Texas go how it should have and not have to pull off a miracle and miss the No. 47 [Ricky Stenhouse Jr.] spinning, we finish in the top three, and we probably pit and put on tires and have a simple end to our race today,” said Cindric. “But, either way, that’s not how this sport works. It’s not that easy, and it’s not an opportunity that’s guaranteed every year, and I want to make the most of it.”