As part of Motorsport.com’s content partnership with Team Penske, we will provide fans with exclusive content each week from the organization’s drivers, crew members and staff throughout the 2017 season.
Austin Cindric, the 18-year-old son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric, will make his debut in Sunday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Road America, driving Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford in the Johnsonville 180.
Austin currently competes full-time in the Camping World Truck Series for Brad Keselowski Racing, and has an extensive road-racing background, including starts at Road America in the Pirelli World Challenge series.
We caught up with Cindric to discuss his Xfinity debut, his Truck series season and what lies ahead in 2018.
You’ve called this race “the biggest opportunity of your racing career.” What is it that makes this start so special to you?
Cindric: The first thing is that I’m getting the opportunity to drive a race car for Roger Penske. The second thing is those guys wanted to give me this opportunity to race during a Cup off-weekend, they have the confidence that I’ll be able to get the job done. It’s a race track that I have experience at. Hopefully, it’s going to lead to more opportunities in the future working with that group. I feel like if I can do a good job and prove myself that’s the best way maybe working myself forward in my stock car career.
You also have said that Road America is one of your favorite tracks. You have experience there, but what is it that you really enjoy?
Cindric: It’s a historic place that also always has a great crowd. I feel like it would be a really cool venue for a Cup series race one day just because of the fan support. It’s got every kind of corner imaginable. I think of a Bathurst without walls and elevation to be honest. It’s quite a fun place to race. There are a lot of places to lose time and there are a lot of places to gain time given that it’s a four-mile race track. It takes a lot of discipline to be able to run consistent times there.
Given the success of the Team Penske Xfinity program and your experience in road racing, do you believe you can go there and win the race?
Cindric: Honestly, I would be very disappointed if we went up there and we weren’t able to contend for the win. I don’t expect myself to win but I definitely expect to be in contention. Their Xfinity road course program has been top-notch. Sam (Hornish Jr.) proved that by hopping in the thing and really dominating the Mid-Ohio weekend. I’m really excited about what we have. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with a few people about what I’m in for and I’m doing the ARCA race, too, and that should help me as well. I’ve had a chance to win every stock car race I’ve been in on a road course except one (last season’s Truck race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park). The stock cars are so much fun to run on the road courses – they are big and heavy with no tire, a ton of horsepower. I can only expect a big smile on my face in the first practice session.
You have made big strides in the Truck series this season, including contending for wins on oval tracks. How comfortable to do feel you are on the ovals now?
Cindric: I’ve learned a lot this season about what it takes to find the right balance to race, which is a lot easier said than done, especially in the Truck series. Those things are so aero-dependent and there’s only one truck in the entire race that has clean air and that’s the leader. I feel like I’m making strides in understanding in how to get myself in position to make the truck race-able. The other thing is learning how to get there at the end of the race. Truck races are some of the shortest and most aggressive in NASCAR, so the rate of attrition can get high. Those are all things I’ve been learning and I feel it’s really starting to come together to make us a consistent contender. I expect that to only get better.
One of the two remaining races in the Truck series regular season is the road course at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Do you feel it’s an opportunity to win and make the playoffs?
Cindric: It’s a place that I may have a leg-up on some of my competitors that don’t really have the road-racing experience that I do. In contrast, many of them have much more oval track experience. It kind of levels the playing field for me. I expect it will be tough. There are a lot of quality drivers in the Truck series this year. I’m excited to see where we stack up against everybody up there. It’s a hell of a race track and I don’t think driving a stock car there does it justice because they are stable through high-speed corners. It makes it a bit less hairy then driving in those corners with a lightweight sports car.
With the announcement that BKR is closing its doors at season’s end, is it your hope to continue your development in NASCAR racing next season?
Cindric: I’d really like to. I don’t think there is any reason for it to stop but obviously Brad’s decision cuts off some opportunities at the Truck Series level. I do have tie-in with Ford and I do have the tie-in with Team Penske and they’ve supported and helped me. Getting in this Xfinity car makes it even more important to have a solid weekend and show that I am capable of running at that level. It’s kind of a forced acceleration of my growth curve. I know I’m only going to be able to drive a car of that caliber again in my career if I prove I’m worthy. There are plenty of guys out there that are capable drivers. It’s a shame because I know Brad has given a lot of people, including myself, the opportunity to develop our careers. Not only us, but the guys that work there, too. We’re all still determined to get these Trucks in Victory Lane before the end of the year.