From winning the Daytona 500 as a rookie to a sophomore season filled with woes, Austin Cindric has had his fair share of learning to do in the NASCAR Cup Series over the last two years.
This season, the No. 2 team seems to be lacking speed, so as a result, the call was made by Team Penske to make a change. Starting at Pocono, Cindric’s entry would migrate to a baseline setup similar to that of teammate Joey Logano.
“You’re maximizing your ability to have teammates,” said Cindric about the decision. “We obviously haven’t run as well as we wanted to at a lot of different events so far this year, and it’s kind of a good option for us to re-baseline kind of where we’re at whether it’s right or wrong.”
With the new adjustments, Cindric says he’s already learned a lot, referencing the Cook Out 400 at Richmond Raceway last weekend, a facility where Logano has the sixth-best average finish among active drivers.
“If I would have had a chance to get out of the car for 10 minutes and kind of understand it all, I think we would have been much better,” the Mooresville, North Carolina native shared.
However, the two Team Penske teammates faced similar handling-type issues at Richmond, which led Cindric to a finish of 27th. Logano, on the other hand, was able to make an impressive recovery to score a top-five result.
“Some days that helps you recognize a lack of experience,” Cindric realized upon comparing performance with this new setup. “But I feel like it’s also brought me and Joey closer, you know, just being able to work together and kind of solve similar issues.”
This past weekend Cindric and the No. 2 Discount Tire team took to the Irish Hills of Michigan in search of a better run. Unfortunately, the weekend got off to a rocky start after a mechanical issue shortened the already short practice session on Saturday.
That lack of practice time cost the second-year driver a good starting spot in Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400, qualifying 21st.
Once the green flag dropped on Sunday, the group struggled to work their way to the front of the pack. Though, luckily for Cindric, an early-race caution gave the team an interesting opportunity to vary their strategy.
While much of the pack chose to take on tires and fuel, Cindric was one of 11 cars to stay on the track and take advantage of track position, giving the No. 2 an advantage starting towards the front of the pack.
However, throughout the remainder of the race’s first stage, his car would backslide from 10th to 21st.
The team would use strategy once again in the second stage to place the Team Penske driver in a positive position for the restart, where tons of aggressive driving ensued. Cindric would maintain his spot inside the top-10 for most of the stage.
“I think our Discount Tire Ford Mustang is really strong. I feel really confident on restarts and in racing situations,” Cindric said during the red flag on Sunday. “Being able to get a bit of that tightness out of the car is kind of our last step to being at our best but some good track position, good calls on the box. Hopefully, we can get back going.”
Unfortunately, the FireKeepers Casino 400 did not return to green on Sunday.
On a positive note, Cindric’s vehicle seemed to have a more consistent pace when the event resumed on Monday. Though, a miscommunication on the final pit stop of the race ended up costing the team some track position, leaving the No. 2 to finish in 12th.
With Michigan in the rearview mirror, there are now only three races remaining in the regular-season. Heading to three tracks he’s shown strength at – Indy’s Road Course, Watkins Glen, and Daytona – Cindric sits 53 points below the cutline.
Known as a ‘road course ringer’ during his tenure in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and coming off a sixth-place result at the Chicago Street Course, the Team Penske driver could have a legitimate shot at winning his way into the Playoffs. However, the concern will be geared toward if the short track/road course package will give the speed needed to win.
“I think we certainly have some work to do on our road course package to be able to get us in good enough form to be able to win races. And I think we’ve got some good ideas coming in the next week,” Cindric explained. “And obviously a really important stretch for me to try and try and win to get ourselves in the playoffs. So winning at Indy would be would be a double whammy.”