Why not Austin Cindric? The Round of 12 lines up well for the rookie

Why not Austin Cindric? The Round of 12 lines up well for the rookie
Harold Hinson/HHP

Don’t dismiss the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford as a Playoff contender just because Austin Cindric is a rookie.

While the Round of 12 could be the most difficult in the Playoffs—with Texas, Talladega, and the Roval—Cindric has produced solid results on superspeedways and road courses.

Cindric’s body of work during the regular season bodes well for the next three races. The 24-year-old racer sees this round as a great opportunity to amass points, starting with Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. 

“Hopefully, our past notes from Texas earlier this year in the All-Star Race transfer over into a race that certainly plays more significance to the season,” Cindric said. “Obviously, we had a lot of speed--all three cars between myself, Ryan (Blaney), and Joey (Logano). 

When the Lone Star State hosted the All-Star Race in May, Team Penske Fords finished first, third and fourth. Cindric’s third-place result was his best on an intermediate track with the new car. But Cindric took a shine to the 1.5-mile track in the Xfinity Series. In eight starts, he scored a win, six top fives and seven top 10s. His average finish was 4.9.

“I would also say it's kind of on the theme of returning to new tracks or tracks for the second time,” Cindric said. "It's a different preparation. And it will be completely different next year because we're going to have a full race of notes. 

“So I think the learning still continues for sure.” 

Still, Cindric has appeared to be a natural on superspeedways. He proved his drafting prowess by winning the season-opening Daytona 500, then finished third at the track last month. Although Cindric was swept up in a mid-race wreck at Talladega, the No. 2 Ford finished 21st, on the lead lap.

“I've made it to the end of two of them, we've had three,” said Cindric. “So, I'm a big believer in the law of averages, but Talladaga is definitely a different ball game. 

“But I do feel confident in what I've learned so far this year in the car and know that if we’re around for the end of the race, we’ll be just as good as anybody.” 

Road courses are where Cindric has been the most impressive. In five starts this season, his average finish is seventh. Cindric’s average finish on the Roval in four Xfinity Series starts was 3.5.

“The Roval, even if you’re not good, you can probably strategize some ways to get points,” Cindric said. “So I think this round is exciting for someone in my position and try to maximize it.”

Starting the Round of 12, Cindric finds himself in the Playoff cellar, seven points below the cutoff. He realizes that in the remaining seven races execution will be paramount. While the new car has provided opportunities for 19 different winners in 2022, there hasn’t been a standout driver that has dominated throughout the season.

“It's been an issue for the entire field to have that consistency in that execution,” Cindric said. “But to your point, yeah, they've had some pretty tragic mistakes and I think it serves as a great example that a fast race car only gets you so far.

"We’re in the position we are for the playoffs because we haven't taken ourselves out of it.” 

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