NASCAR Transcript: Austin Cindric – Press Conference – 06.02.24

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race winner, Austin Cindric, driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford.

We will go straight to questions for Austin.

Q. Have you gotten to speak to your father yet? What can you share about this moment that you shared with him?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, I spoke to him and my mom in Victory Lane over the phone. It’s funny, my pops and I kind of have this thing, I don’t believe in luck or, like, any juju or whatever, but he and I are pretty convinced over the last handful of years that he and I both can’t have a good day at the racetrack.

Like if the 2 car in INDYCAR has a good day, the 2 car in NASCAR doesn’t. It’s this conspiracy theory. Watching the INDYCAR race today, they had a bad race, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. We’re still proving that theory correct because I can’t think of a better day for us on the 2 car in NASCAR.

Q. Talk about your relationship with him in general.

AUSTIN CINDRIC: He’s my dad. I love the guy. Other than that, maybe not the strangest it’s ever been. In Xfinity he could kind of avoid me, let me and my team do our thing, he’d kind of ignore that. Obviously his role within the team. He’s in all of our meetings now. Our goals are the exact same as far as what makes this team great.

I can’t think of a better leader for our team. I’ve been able to see it firsthand the difference that he makes. Proud to be able to watch that, grow up around that, proud to be his son.

Q. All three Penske cars ran in the top five for most of the race today. How important of a day was this for Penske?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Super critical for us. I mean, obviously RFK has definitely showed speed from the Ford side, been able to prove that we can run up front and win in this package. There’s a lot of conversation about different OEMs, this and that. That’s definitely something we look at as a race team to try and improve and get better.

Barely being able to run top 10 with one car at Charlotte after winning the year before, Joey and I, best we could do is 14th and 20th. That’s last week, the last thing in our head.

Easy to get down on, but this team has an incredible ability to be consistent, whether if it’s at the Indy 500 or this weekend at Gateway. Having incredibly consistent pace between all of our cars, all through the get-go.

We’ve had, like, superspeedways have been that way for us this year. I’ve left every single one of those feeling guilty because we haven’t won. I thought I had a chance to win Daytona, I thought I had a shot to win Atlanta, though I had a shot to win Talladega, with arguably the fastest cars.

Going into the race today, I went to bed last night knowing I’d be really, really disappointed if one of us didn’t win. Just happy that we were in position there when the 12 car ran out, bring home a win because this team deserves it.

I can’t wait to see everybody back at the shop. Everyone has been super supportive, believing in me through good days and bad days. I can’t think of a better place to work.

Q. Looks like that’s a horseshoe.

AUSTIN CINDRIC: It’s a race fan, I guess he gives them to the winners every year. I guess Joey has one. So I have one now ’cause I won today (smiling). That’s cool.

Little things like that, I guess you keep and hang on to after race wins. Yeah, he was driving by on the golf cart when he gave it to me, so I don’t really know the story behind it. Kind of makes sense, right?

Q. Obviously Bell had his engine issue, Blaney has his fuel issue. Did you have any issues? Hear any sounds or anything where you were going to break, too?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: I didn’t even know we were close on fuel. I was kind of shocked. If I’m being honest. Maybe you didn’t know we were close on fuel either.

Either way, crazy to think that probably the two best cars at the end of that race both had an issue. The third-place car wins the race. That’s the way I see it. It’s not like I went out there and took the lead away. But we were in position. One of our best executed races so far this year with probably our best speed we’ve shown this year.

Yeah, there’s definitely still a bit of that shock factor left over for me.

Q. Blaney didn’t know you were short on fuel either.

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Honestly, heartbroken for those guys. I know it might sound cliché to say that, but I really do feel that way. Those guys are championship contenders. A win, five Playoff points goes a long ways for those guys. We have an important summer coming up for our group to be able to put ourselves on that level every week.

Q. What is motivating you right now? Third year of Cup, you have to win because it’s now time? Did you feel like I got to win or else somebody else is going to take my ride?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: I think there’s two avenues I could take on that. I’ll take you down both of them.

One of which is I’m an internally motivated person. This is not fun if I’m not winning. As you can imagine, it’s not been very fun for a little while. That’s the standard I hold. I don’t want to find myself in a position to be okay with 10th and be okay. Hey, I finished in the top 10, that’s an awesome day. No, that’s 10th. That’s good, that’s a step forward, but it’s not where I want to be. It’s not the level in which I prepare. It’s not the level in which my team expects to perform.

To dovetail into the next avenue, that’s not good enough to race and drive at Team Penske. I know that. No one has to tell me that. There’s no meeting that has to be set in place. I take that very personally. The opportunity that I have to be able to go win at the highest level, the intensity that I carry every day when I wake up, go to the race shop. I cut out every other distraction in my life good, bad or indifferent. If that makes me a horribly rounded person, which is does in a lot of ways, all I care about is what I do between the walls of a racetrack.

Q. You talked about the superspeedways earlier. How much of a validation do you think a win on a track that is totally different from a restrictor plate track?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: They’re going to tell me because it’s like a road course, right?

Q. Of course.

AUSTIN CINDRIC: I went through the same thing in Xfinity, right? You win on a road course, you win on an oval, then on a short track. At some point they have to accept the fact you’re going to be good every week.

I’m not saying that’s where I’m at. I’ve just lived this before. Either way, I’m at the point where I don’t really care what type of racetrack it is. I feel like our speedway programs are awesome, an opportunity for us to win every time. This racetrack has been that way for us the last three years.

Going into it knowing it could be an opportunity race for us, just proud to be there in the moment and execute like a top-level team should.

Q. Did you get the chance to speak with Ryan?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, Ryan came by and saw me in Victory Lane, congratulated me and my team. Just shows the professional that he is. He was happy for us, probably as much as he could be. I’m sure he is heartbroken. I feel really bad for him.

Yeah, I’m just proud to have teammates like that that really care about the effort we put forth. We raced side by side a lot of the day. It’s a good day for me when I’m able to keep up with that 12 car. He does an awesome job every week.

Q. Is it stressful in the car with a strategy style race?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: I leave that all up to Brian. I’ll be honest, I don’t know, I feel like there’s been sometimes this year, I’m sure it’s gone completely unnoticed, but I’ll bring it up. We’ve lost some positions, put ourselves in bad spots, a lap down due to maybe trying to be aggressive on strategy or conservative on strategy.

That’s something that Brian has been — it’s frustrating because it’s a crew chief’s job, right? You got to do whatever you feel is right. That’s why I always encourage him. If there’s one way you want to go, do it. I’ll believe in you 100%.

This was a strategy race. Brian called an awesome race today. It was an aggressive race. Put ourselves in position to really take advantage of the opportunity.

Kudos to him. I’m sure this means a lot to Brian. First win to Brian as a crew chief in the Cup Series. I gave him the checkered flag after the race. I’m just so happy we were able to get one of these together.

Q. You said you weren’t aware you were so low on fuel. When you saw that he had run out, were you at all concerned?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: I didn’t know he ran out till we were in Victory Lane. I didn’t know we were that close or maybe they didn’t get full. Obviously they pitted a lap sooner than us. I didn’t get the impression we were one lap away from running out.

Obviously have to kind of dig through the data on that one. But, yeah, just kind of shocked. You take the white as the leader. You focus on not screwing it up. I’ll be honest, super nervous after taking the checkered.

Came off the four, identified that the guy has the checkered flag in his hand, listening to my spotter that I just won the race, still terrified I needed to keep driving fast. That’s how long it’s been since I won a race. I didn’t want to give it away the dumb way. The green lights were still on because we were at the tail end of the pack. So they were all finishing.

A lot of emotions in a short amount of time.

Q. You alluded to there’s some skill sets that are similar to a road course. Do you feel it translates?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: I mean, yes and no. I’d say it’s definitely different than other racetracks that we go to just as far as, like, all the shifting that we do. Especially in this car with the sequential gearbox, it’s not like an art form to be able to shift this car.

As far as the decisions you have to make, you do have the opportunity to, like, physically out-brake someone into the corner maybe from a racing standpoint that kind of adds up. Past that, it’s very much an oval racetrack. But it’s kind of got that short track feel just due to how much you’re on the brakes and how tight some of the corners are.

Q. You’re running second with a lap and a half to go. Ryan slows. Take us through the three minutes from lap and a half to go to when you’re doing your burnout? Did you go from thinking good points day to are you sure we won the race?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, no, I mean, I’ll take you back to probably 10 to go. There was a bit of blood in the water because the lap cars were racing the snot out of Ryan. He was probably 3 or 4/10ths slower. Ryan had a two-second lead on me. Unfortunately the 34 just come out of pit road. I had traffic, too, for quite a while. The two of us both ran him down, eventually got on the 34. Thought there might be a chance like if he got slowed up or didn’t get by the 99 that I would maybe have a chance. The whole stint, I’m giving everything I have to stay in touch.

But especially as we got closer to the end, I don’t need these tires for the end of the race, for a restart, we’re just going to go after it and try to go get it.

I saw him slow into three. My spotter picked up on it in the middle of three and four. I thought maybe the four to five upshift into three, maybe he didn’t get the upshift right. That’s the only thing I could figure that would have made him that slow. They had their other issues. I don’t need to relive that.

You pass them on the front straightaway taking the white, knowing exactly what that means for them. At that point it’s just focus on hitting your marks, win the race. I mean, just being able to do a burnout, get out and do Victory Lane celebrations, all of it.

It’s like my first time all over again it’s been so long. Even just like standing up on the roof of my car, I about fell over in Victory Lane. Big tree fall hard on that deal. I can’t make the highlight reel on that.

Incredible range of emotions in a short amount of time.

Q. Yesterday we talked about having speed. You had that today. The strategy worked out pretty well for you. Will this be a turning point for the 2 team? How big of an impact does this have on you and Brian’s relationship going forward?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Time will tell. Believe in confidence, momentum as much as you want. Too much of a realistic guy, especially with myself, to think that this is just going to make me drive harder and be a better race car driver moving forward. I can promise you I’ve been giving it absolutely everything I have to run 20th some weeks.

It’s that preparation, that process that when you come to the track with cars that are capable of winning races, and you go out there and do it, that’s a lot of validation for a young team. When I say a young team, pretty much from the top down, guys in new roles, within one or two years in the Cup Series.

These are guys that have been with me for a long time. When we did team swap, crew chief swap at the end of the year last year, I think there’s a lot of somewhat brotherhood culture when you do that. You just have to lean on each other with the challenges of not having the experience and having two teams that are put together that won two championships the last two years.

We have two great baselines for our group. I think it’s just validation in the process. I’ve told my guys that my expectation is for us to eventually hopefully be the example, whether if that’s in the garage or in our own race shop. They all do an incredible job, are incredibly positive group of people with no egos.

I’m just really proud because I think there’s a lot of people on that team that are directly responsible for me being able to race in the Cup Series and making it to this level. To win a Cup race with Brian is really special for the two of us.

Q. In general, this day at the track, I assume you’re in a better mood because you won, but describe what the atmosphere was like.

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Think the track has done a tremendous job here, whether it’s been for the INDYCAR race event, then into the Cup Series events. I went to the St. Louis Battlehawks game last night. I mean, I was pretty surprised at the turnout, to be honest. 90% of the people there were all wearing team gear. I’ve got to buy a hat to fit in here. It shows that there’s a passion for sports in this place.

The facility is always super clean. They’re always trying to do innovative, new things. The teams and the drivers notice that.

I’d say my only constructive criticism is more bathrooms in the garage area. Past that, these guys have been knocking it out of the park every year. Every team and driver does look forward to it because of that. It’s a people-driven sport. It’s people making those decisions, making us as race teams feel welcome, like they’ve prepared all year for us to show up. I feel like there’s some racetracks you don’t get that feeling.

We race a lot, go to a lot of different places. It’s always good to come here.

Q. You spent all of 2022 after Daytona being locked into the Playoffs. With this win, 11 races left in the regular season, what do you expect this to do for you?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: It definitely gives us an option. From a points perspective, how many positions can I gain with the guys that are in the Playoffs, as far as getting those Playoff points at the end of the regular season. I think that’s the topic of conversation.

After that, do we go to a road course next week at Sonoma, go and get Playoffs if we don’t feel like we’re good enough to win the race. Makes those decisions easier to throw some Hail Marys.

Past that we have to get better. It’s no secret, this is our first win as a company this season. So we still got to be able to go out there and put numbers on the board and continue to grow our program, grow our team to where we are ready for the opportunity. It’s not just an appearance. It’s a run in the Playoffs. That is what’s possible.

The season is long. The summer is long. A lot can happen, a lot can change. Pretty important next couple months for us to get ready for that.

Q. On your Victory Lane lap Brad gave you a wave. He’s been a team owner to you, teammate. Did he speak to you about this win? If not, what has he meant to you in your career?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, I’ll be honest, I was so consumed with not, like, screwing up the end of the race. Even after the checkered, I didn’t see who passed me on the cool-down lap. It’s cool that Brad waved to me. I think a lot of him, whether that’s as a teammate, as a car owner, or just a figure in the series, as a role model in the series to younger guys.

Yeah, there’s definitely nothing Brad owes me in a lot of ways. It was his idea to put me in a truck for the first time in 2015, to race for his team. It was cool to see him win at Darlington, even shared the FOX booth with him. Somebody I rooted for growing up. To think I’m racing against that guy, have the relationship that I have with him, yeah, it’s pretty cool. I definitely appreciate it.

He even hollered at me yesterday after qualifying for putting down a good lap. Cool to have some respect from a guy like that.

THE MODERATOR: Austin, congratulations on the win.