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Austin Cindric Perservered Through Mental Anguish of 85-Race Losing Streak

Austin Cindric talks about Gateway win mentally tough losing streak

Photo Credit: Nigel Kinrade, NKP for Ford Performance

A few days removed from his 85-race winless slump-busting win in the Enjoy Illinois 300 at World Wide Technology, it’s business as usual for Austin Cindric, the driver of Team Penske’s No. 2 Ford Mustang Dark Horse. While last weekend’s opportunistic win, which came when his teammate Ryan Blaney ran out of fuel coming to the white flag, was nice, Cindric is focused on keeping the newfound momentum rolling this weekend at Sonoma Raceway.

RELATED: Austin Cindric Inherits Gateway Victory After Blaney Runs Out of Fuel

“It’s no different,” Cindric answered when pressed about how different team meetings are when you are coming off of a race win during a media teleconference. “I feel like this week is unique because Sonoma has got the repave and there’s a lot of unknowns with that, so how do you gather as much information, as much data, how relevant is the information and the data that you have on Sonoma towards what are you doing, and then how do you utilize the 50-minute practice session in an efficient way.”

While Cindric, who spends a lot of time at the Team Penske shop, is knee-deep in preparing for this weekend’s race at the 1.99-mile road course in wine country, he did have a chance to enjoy the spoils of his win with his team despite the quick turnaround that comes with a trip to the West coast for NASCAR Cup Series teams.

“It’s been great. Obviously, it’s a short turnaround, probably shorter than most weeks with Sonoma and cars having to leave this morning. My guys didn’t have much time to turn around and we had to do the whole car yesterday, so we got all the families of the guys on my team together, pit crew, road crew and went out and had dinner last night,” Cindric explained. “We went and did the win donuts that I would traditionally do at Roush Yates, it’s just been a while. I went to the engine shop this morning. We’ll have our happy hour as a team during lunch today, so all great things. There is definitely still a pulse on it. It’s a pretty big moment for us and a lot of momentum for the team.”

For Cindric, his 85-race losing drought was unlike anything that he had  ever experienced in his professional racing career. The 25-year-old driver in his third full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series, scored a NASCAR Xfinity Series championship in 2020, and between 2019 and 2021, he had amassed 13 victories in the NASCAR Xfinity Series ranks.

Once he moved to Cup full-time at the start of the 2022 season, Cindric won right out of the gates in the sport’s biggest race — the Daytona 500. But after coming home 12th in the year-end championship standings in his rookie campaign, Cindric really began to struggle. Not just on the track, but after going winless in 2023, he was struggling mentally as well.

Every year, Cindric commissions special artwork to all of the supporters that have helped him throughout his career. Cindric says the rough 2023 season and the gravity of how un-Cindric like it was, hit him hardest when it was time to come up with an idea for the piece that he was going to send out.

“I commish art work every year to send out to all of my supporters, family, friends, it’s kind of a collage of all the race cars I drove. I started it back in 2015 when I was racing in IMSA and Rallycross and stock cars and to kind of just illustrate, literally, the different experiences I got to do throughout the year. Usually, the centerpiece of this artwork is the most prominent race win I have, and last year I called my guy, Steve, and I’m like, ‘Dude, I don’t even know what to do. This is a tradition. Everybody expects this every year and I want to do this, and I want to have these to line them up throughout my career, but I don’t even know what to put in the center of this,’” Cindric recalled.

In the end, Cindric decided on the Bristol Dirt race as the focal point of the piece due to the decent run he had in the Heat Race, which set the starting lineup for that event, and the fact that the 2023 edition of the Dirt Race at Bristol marking the final run of that race in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Cindric knew it would be a challenge transitioning to the NASCAR Cup Series, but he definitely expected better results than what he recorded last year. Cindric explains that when you’re in the midst of a big slump, it’s really easy to get complacent, and not pay attention to the things you have to pay attention to, such as maximizing restarts near the front of the pack, because you’re so programmed to not being near the front.

“There are weeks where you’re finishing 25th three weeks in a row where it’s hard to sit here and realistically think you’ll just go in there and need to use this information, but some of it is just about not being lazy and that’s how you have to challenge yourself because it’s kind of depressing watching some of those things thinking that you’re not gonna have to use it.”

However, Cindric has been able to stay in the game mentally, and in the end, that led to him being able to capitalize on his teammate’s misfortune this past weekend.

“But it’s necessary and that’s the mindset that I’ve forced myself to have is to be prepared for those moments and this weekend is honestly proof of that process for not just me, but my team,” Cindric said. “That’s what I feel like I project onto my race team is to be prepared for that, know that we have that opportunity and it’s good to be surrounded by, whether if that’s two championship teams right next door to our setup plate or even IndyCar program or an IMSA program. We have enough greatness surrounding us to know that we have all those ingredients. Obviously, it hasn’t been the best year for our Cup program as a whole, but you have to be ready for those opportunities and do what is necessary to take advantage of that.”

While the season totals don’t look ultra-impressive for Cindric through the opening 15 races of the season, all of the Ford teams are finally starting to wrap their heads around what makes the new Ford Mustang Dark Horse body Next Gen car tick.

And for the driver of the No. 2 car, he’s had raw speed at a variety of tracks this season as evidenced by his 11.9 average starting position. Now, with a win in their back pocket, and a Playoff berth secured, Cindric and his crew chief Brian Wilson can keep on digging to set themselves up for a potential push in the Playoffs.

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