Austin Cindric drives a legendary car number for legendary team owner Roger Penske.
It’s a car number, No. 2, associated with some significant NASCAR Cup Series accomplishments. Rusty Wallace drove it to victory lane from Bristol to Rockingham to North Wilkesboro. Brad Keselowski did so at places like Darlington and Indianapolis, and also won a championship in the number.
But Cindric has already done something with the car his predecessors didn’t: win the Daytona 500.
“I 100% knew that,” Cindric told RACER of his 2022 triumph in the Daytona 500 as a rookie. “We – Team Penske – have won the Daytona 500 now with every car number with the 2, 12 and 22. So, (we delivered) that to the car that kind of started it all.
“I’m not exaggerating when I say that there are guys who were on the O.G. Rusty Wallace crew that work at Team Penske every day, come up and talk to us every day. That was huge for them. Think about the amount of times Rusty showed up to Speedways, and Rusty was never able to win the 500. I’m not posturing or comparing, but that’s a win that every driver wants to have.”
But it’s not one that every driver gets to accomplish, and Cindric did it as a rookie in just his second attempt. Wallace went 0-and-23 in the Daytona 500. Keselowski is still trying, so far winless in 14 attempts.
“Think about all the wins that a guy like Dale Earnhardt had; the only one that really serves any significant to anyone’s memory right now is the Daytona 500 win that was so hard to get,” Cindric said. “From that standpoint, to be able to deliver that is what brings me the most satisfaction and most pride from that win.
“You make comparisons of the importance of Indy to my family, and to add Daytona to that list is pretty cool. But the satisfaction to me comes from being a part of delivering that to the greater picture.”
On Tuesday morning, the car Cindric drove to victory was uncovered at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on the Glory Road exhibit. Glory Road is in the great hall of the building, immediately to the left when guests make their way past the turnstiles.
For the first time, Glory Road has 19 cars on it with the addition of Cindric’s. It was added to the fifth edition of the display honoring NASCAR’s 75th anniversary, and marks the first time a Next Gen car has been on display.
“I think it’s an incredible opportunity for everyone involved,” Cindric said. “Obviously, for the Hall of Fame to have a Next Gen car on display, I think that’s super-important as far as the people who come funneling through here and are able to relate to see what we do every week and then see the car. Also, during NASCAR’s 75th anniversary, to have the entire gambit of NASCAR race cars on Glory Road. But myself, everyone on the 2 crew, Team Penske, Discount Tire, everyone benefits from all of it.
“It’s cool to be able to share it with everyone. It’s one of those things where you don’t want a Daytona 500 win to become old news, and when things like this come up, it’s a great reminder of what that means and how long something like that lasts.”
At 24 years old and in his second year of Cup Series racing, Cindric now has the honor of having a car in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In the past, Cindric has lent a helmet or smaller items to the Hall of Fame to be included in a display.
“I think it’s hard to describe (what it means),” Cindric said. “I’ve been to plenty of racing and car museums. I’ve grown up loving cars. I’m a very visual person, and I do love going to places like a museum or a zoo. Things like that. I like those things. To think that car is going to make a connection with somebody on any level… Obviously, my own name and my accomplishments are tied to that, but the amount of connections people can make to that, and it being on display and being synonymous with the visual history of NASCAR, is hard to believe I’m a part of that. I probably haven’t processed it all.”
Winning the Daytona 500 not only accomplished a first for his car number but immediately took the pressure off a former Xfinity Series champion moving to the top level.
“Well, winning never hurts. Winning usually solves all problems,” said Cindric. “That early on, I’ll probably never know (what it did for his season). When you feel the pressure of racing or trying to make the playoffs, (it) takes time to build. I’ll never know. It’s not something I think about, to be honest. It’s one of those deals that you want to appreciate it and move forward past it.
“You don’t want to forget it or ignore it, but we still have 35 races left to do. What changes for me after that race is I’m in the All-Star Race, and I do have a shot to win a championship. I have the first step to win a championship. That, I would say, is hard to believe and come to terms with as a rookie in the Cup Series.”
Cindric’s car will be on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame for three years.