Austin Cindric, driver of the No.2 Team Penske Ford Mustang Dark Horse, will be making his fourth NASCAR Cup Series start at Circuit of the Americas and will be trying to extend a streak that has seen him qualify in the top 10 every season. He has registered back-to-back top 10 finishes as well with his best effort coming last season when he ran sixth. Cindric spoke to members of the media earlier today about this weekend’s event.

AUSTIN CINDRIC, No. 2 Team Penske Ford Mustang Dark Horse – HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING INTO COTA? “I think it’s a great opportunity for us to kind of get back on track and hit the reset button. The last couple of weeks have been pretty funky with getting knocked out the first couple of laps at Phoenix and then obviously last week’s craziness and all the tire failures that we experienced, so I’m kind of excited to just get back going and hopefully a lot of green flag running. It’s been a place that we’ve had some good pace. We obviously have to adapt to the new package, but I’m excited to go hit the reset button and get after it.”

THE RESTART ZONE HAS BEEN PUSHED BACK CLOSE TO TURN 20. WHAT KIND OF IMPACT WILL THAT HAVE AND WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE SUCCESSFUL THERE? “I think the restart zone, I would say the initial impressions are that it should hopefully separate the top 10 in the field from the back half to where you don’t have that immediate stack up where you’re trying to fit 40 cars slowing down and have that massive check up that causes guys to make it three, four, five, six, seven, eight, however high you can count, wide into turn one. Upon reviewing it today with where the restart zone is and how many cars there are, I still think turn one certainly has a great opportunity to be messy depending on how the first couple rows play the start, and I think how early the leader goes. I still think there is plenty of opportunity for chaos there on the restarts, but I think it’s a much higher percent chance of cutting some of that down.”

ARE YOU AT A PLACE WHERE YOU HAVE TO GET STAGE POINTS OR IF YOU HAVE A GOOD CAR JUST RACE FOR THE WIN AND GIVE UP THE STAGE POINTS? “I think it all depends on how competitive you feel like you are, whether that’s on Saturday or Sunday. If you feel like you have a chance to win the race or not, I think there’s gonna be some pretty clear-cut guys that are gonna flip the stages. We’re obviously back to playing that game to where you might even win the race and not have a max points day, or have a good finish and not have a very good points day, so you certainly have to weigh that out. I think the points are very tight. I think I was 11th or 10th or third in points two or three weeks ago, so things happen pretty fast this early in the year. I’m not necessarily in a points panic, but points are definitely just as important as getting a good finish if not more.”

YOU TRIED TO WAVE OVER TO RICKY TO TALK TO HIM BUT HE KEPT WALKING AFTER THE RACE. I ASSUME YOUR TIRES WERE JUST ICE AND YOU COULDN’T STOP ONCE YOU MADE THAT MOVE? “Yeah. I certainly was trying to stay on the lead lap and tires were old, but I put us in a bad spot. I drove through marbles, put us three-wide with the 38 and I put complete responsibility on me for that accident. I don’t know what his race was looking like at that point, but I’m sure it wasn’t appreciated. He was fairly frustrated after the race and I think has every right to be, so that was just making a bad situation worse on my end, so I certainly have to do less of that. It’s definitely not fun and I hate to find myself in that situation. It’s totally on me.”

YOU HAVE QUITE A FEW GOOD RUNS AT RICHMOND IN XFINITY BUT CUP HAS BEEN A STRUGGLE. CAN YOU FIGURE OUT WHY THAT IS? WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE? “I’m not sure I’ve ever started Richmond in the Cup Series inside the top 30 and I can give you a number of reasons of why, and the one time I did I lost a cylinder about six laps into the race. It’s a very difficult racetrack. It’s a challenging race from a strategy standpoint with long green flag runs. It’s a tough track, but I really do enjoy Richmond, so I am looking forward to going there. I feel like we can kind of get our heads wrapped around the short track package a little bit. I’m certainly not discouraged, but it’s a racetrack where you can’t hide if you have a weakness or an issue throughout the race. It’s a racetrack where veterans really perform well, not to say that I can’t with my experience level, but it is a track that I actually feel somewhat confident about what I need to do with the car and how I need to take care of the race and how the track moves and so on, just kind of putting it together has still yet to happen for me in a Cup car.”

IS A HOT DOG A SANDWICH AND WHEN YOU HAVE ONE WHAT ARE YOUR TOPPINGS? “A hot dog is not a sandwich. The hot dog is the actual weiner itself, like the bun is the vessel that makes it. It’s not a sandwich. It’s like saying a taco is a sandwich. As far as what my toppings are on my hot dog, I’m pretty basic. I could maybe put some cheese on it or something like that, but I just go straight dog.”

WHAT DID YOU FEEL DURING PRACTICE WITH THE NEW SHORT TRACK PACKAGE AND DO YOU FEEL THERE WILL BE ANY SIMILARITIES? “I think the similarities are just what our information tells us as far as from aerodynamically how is it different. I think you’re kind of splitting hairs to really feel like the aero package is going to be a ton different. I look at it more as a simplification to have a similar product from a car pieces and parts standpoint versus how the car actually drives. That’s kind of how I’ve approached it. I know everyone’s hoped to have closer racing and greater fall off and sliding cars more and all that. I don’t think this change was big enough to really make me believe that any of that was going to be a whole lot different than what we had last year from my expectations, and as far as how that relates to COTA, I think a lot of the same. I’m not expecting a massive shift from last year to this year. I think the things we don’t know about, more straight line braking events, then it’s more lateral, grip limitations at Phoenix, so I think you’ll see the car maybe perform in different ways at that track so we should have a pretty good picture of the total limitations or changes from last year’s short track package.”

IS THERE A LITTLE MORE EMPHASIS ON THIS WEEK KNOWING THERE ARE TWO ROAD COURSES IN THE PLAYOFFS? “Yeah, for me it’s make it to the playoffs and then focus on that, but certainly it’s important now having Watkins, which I would say Watkins is kind of a different ball game compared to more of a traditional road course like Circuit of the Americas or even Sonoma, so some of the relations between all the road courses on the schedule are quite different I feel like. This has been a difficult one for us because I feel like we’ve been OK with our road course package, but COTA has kind of been our outlier. That’s been one of our best events since we started the Next Gen car, our meaning specifically for me and the 2 car, so it’s kind of hard to convince yourself to do something a ton different and especially after the last couple weeks you almost want to just have a base hit and do something you know that works, so it should be an interesting weekend for us. Hopefully, we have some repeatability and have the same speed that we’ve shown the last couple of events there.”

WHEN DO YOU START LOOKING AT COTA AS KIND OF A RELIEF TYPE OF RACE THAT YOU WILL PROBABLY RUN WELL? “It’s funny because two weeks ago I would have gotten the same questions from a lot of folks saying how great the start of your season has gone. Two weeks later it’s all you’re in a rut. It’s so to react to that kind of stuff. It’s a pretty long game here, so I feel like I have to defend that in a moment that it’s a long season. Yeah, the last two weeks have been wildly out of the control of what I feel like our race team is capable of in a few different ways, but as far as COTA stacks up for me, yeah, no matter how you cut it, it’s been a racetrack that I’ve been able to be competitive at and lead laps every time I’ve been there in a Cup car. Personally, it’s not necessarily my favorite racetrack, to be honest, but it’s somewhere that we’ve performed well. We seem to have a package that works well there and after the last couple of weeks I’m very hungry to just execute and everyone get to do our jobs – that comes down to my pit crew as well and everybody just kind of getting in a rhythm again because we haven’t been able to and as much as we race, it feels awkward to not have anything to really think about from a normal standpoint of like, ‘Oh, maybe we need to do this to improve the car or that,’ and not have these massive issues, whether if it’s getting wrecked out early or having this tire and track debacle or any of that. Let’s just reset and I think it’s a great weekend to do it.”

HOW WOULD YOU RATE YOU AND TEAM PENSKE SO FAR THIS SEASON? “Plate events have been really great for us across the board as a team. Daytona and Atlanta, two absolute stand out events. I think all three of our cars were probably the best in the field, the class of the field, and obviously frustrating not to have any of us win those races, but I think it was an A+ for those events. I think the last three weeks have just been learning, whether that’s offset with the Dark Horse Ford Mustang, to figure out where we’ve made gains or where we’re different as well as just kind of getting started off into the season. Obviously, like I’ve said before in here, the last two weeks have just been kind of a mess regardless of anything that we’ve really done outside of our preparation, so it’s a bit difficult to get a read, but it’s certainly been interesting. Obviously, the Toyotas and specifically the Gibbs cars have been pretty strong on the short tracks so far this year, so I think that’s a pretty easy stand out to make, but otherwise, it’s early days.”

WHAT STANDS OUT ABOUT COTA COMPARED TO OTHER ROAD COURSES NASCAR RUNS? “I think it has everything – every type of corner imaginable. High speed, low speed, lefts and rights, braking zones, medium speed corners. You go through the whole gearbox. There is some tire wear. We’ve got some patches in some places, but if anything that will make the tire wear maybe a little bit less, and I also don’t’ feel like this tire necessarily wears anymore than any of the rest, but it’s somewhat of an abrasive racetrack, so past that it’s just got everything in it and you just have to have the complete picture to be competitive there.”

DOES YOUR TEAM CONSULT WITH RFK TO IMPROVE FORD’S PERFORMANCE AND HOW HAS THE DYNAMIC GONE WITH YOU AND BRIAN WILSON? “There’s obviously a lot of collaboration between Ford teams as far as some information shared on race weekends and then obviously the work that all of the teams did as well as Ford Performance to get aerodynamically ready for the season and make the improvements that we know we’ve made with the Ford Mustang Dark Horse, but past that, obviously, we’re still competitors. Brian and I, we obviously got the last 10 races of the year to get the wheels back on the bike. We know each other extremely well. We’ve been in the same building since the start of both of our Cup careers and it’s been great. I think we’re just trying to find our footing right now as far as things that are important to us car setup-wise and communication throughout the race weekends. We’ve been put in some different situations than what we might have been in the Xfinity Series as far as practice and qualifying, so we’re just kind of playing a little bit of catch-up in comparison to Ryan and Joey, who have kind of had their same groups for the last couple of years. I think things are progressing well and the mentality is all in the right way. Brian and I are a good fit because I think we think a lot alike and I think process information the same way, and I think we also put in a very similar level of effort and that’s about all you can ask for in that pairing.”