Ford Performance NASCAR: Daytona 500 Winner Austin Cindric Gearing Up for Cup Playoff Opener

AUSTIN CINDRIC, No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang – IS THE PLAYOFF FORMAT THE REASON WE HAVEN’T HAD A BACK-TO-BACK CHAMPION IN THE LAST DECADE?  “Yeah.  I certainly think the format is significantly more challenging to win.  That’s how it is and I think from year to year you see teams and drivers that are capable of winning a race has changed.  You see that changing ebbing and flowing throughout the season, so it doesn’t surprise me that with the format that rewards winning races over anything else, overall odds, certainly that changes how you line up to be in the Championship 4.”


BRISTOL, ROVAL AND MARTINSVILLE ARE ELIMINATION RACES.  HOW WOULD YOU RANK THEM IN TERMS OF DIFFICULTY TO ADVANCE?  “I think Bristol has the most unknowns because it’s really one of the few racetracks left that we don’t have – the Roval we have a test from there.  Martinsville we have a test and a race, but Bristol we don’t have really much data from any of the teams as far as what you have to bring to the racetrack.  No one really has a notebook from Bristol, so I would say from a team and driver standpoint that probably has the most unknowns.”


A ROOKIE HASN’T FINISHED IN THE TOP 10 SINCE 2016.  IS THAT AN ITEM ON YOUR CHECKLIST?  “I can’t say I’ve really put a number on things, but certainly advancing as far in the playoffs as possible is where my head is at and where I think this team is looking for.  I think it’s also something that we’re capable of.  We come into the playoffs pretty low on playoff points, but at the same time eight points puts me fifth right now, so it’s pretty tight.  It’s been a tight season and I think execution and consistency has been at a premium and I think those that are able to perform in that manner is where I think I have to have my mind.  I think we’re gonna have to put three really great races together to move onto the next round and start all over again.  With that mentality, I don’t think there’s much to lose and a lot to gain.  Like I said, it’s my rookie season and I’m only gonna get better from here.  We’re only gonna get better as a team from here, so I’m excited to see what we can do.”

THIS IS YOUR FIRST SOUTHERN 500.  WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE RACE?  “I see the Darlington Southern 500 being the biggest mental challenge I’ve had in my career as far as races go, as far as race strategy.  Obviously, you mix the playoffs into that.  I think you get the length of a race, at least the mental focus you have to have of the Coke 600 mixed with the discipline and the focus that you have to have to run long runs at Richmond and you’re on a knife edge at Darlington, so I think you combine all of those and it’s a pretty big challenge and something I’m excited to experience.”


IS IT NICE TO FINALLY GET TO THE PLAYOFFS?  “Yeah, it certainly does.  Last week was stressful for all of us at Team Penske, just trying to make sure we got all three of us in.  Really throughout the summer still knowing that points were certainly important, so, from that standpoint, it’s a bit of a reset.  I honestly feel mentally pretty good.  I don’t feel like there’s much expectation plus or minus, so you just go out and try to put together three really great races and try and be consistent and try not to beat ourselves.  That’s the opportunity – obviously there are past champions that aren’t in the playoffs right now, so, from that standpoint it’s not guaranteed that I’ll be in it next year or the year after or whatever else, so it’s a great opportunity and it’s a great opportunity in my rookie season and we just have to do everything to make the most of it.”


WHAT DO YOU EXPECT MENTALLY IN THE PLAYOFFS?  “In Xfinity I’ve really had the last couple of years quite a few playoff points.  I’d probably have to go back to my first year in Xfinity and first year in the Truck Series of going into the playoffs with the least amount of points as I have now, but, from that standpoint, the field is super tight.  Like I said before, you can look at it from I’m three below and have some of the fewest playoff points, but I could also look at it as eight points puts me fifth.  You think about how easy it is to gain and lose eight points over three races.  I think there’s everything to gain for us right now, so I’m excited for that, but I think the ball is in each team’s court for Darlington because it’s such an easy race to beat yourself and it’s such an easy race to get so far behind so early in the first round.  We’ll do our part to make sure that doesn’t happen.  The races still play out.  They still wreck off of two and you can still get collected, but I’m looking forward to having a solid race and doing all the laps.”


WHERE IS YOUR TEAM AT RIGHT NOW AS FAR AS EXPECTATIONS?  “I don’t have any expectations.  I got the same questions before the start of the season on what my expectations were for my rookie year and, honestly, I want to do my job.  That’s the only expectation I have is to have a team that has all of the resources and capability to be able to do that and we’ve certainly delivered on a lot of occasions.  We were certainly having a great season if you look back and I have to give myself perspective sometimes that I’m racing round guys who are having career best years and sometimes I want too much, so I think that’s a good thing, but, at the same time, I think the pursuit of being the best is what we’re about here at Team Penske.  I don’t think we feel like we’ve got that covered at the moment, so between the three of us I think there’s still more that we want to get, but as far as the 2 car, I feel like we’re the best we’ve been so far.  I think we’ve got our process down.  The communication is certainly the best it’s been, so I think all of those things are important when I’m racing against guys that have decades with that experience.”

YOUR BIRTHDAY IS FRIDAY.  DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL MEMORIES OF A PREVIOUS BIRTHDAY?  “Yeah, you guys all know the show Survivor.  My family is big into the show Survivor, so we would always watch every season and when I turned 10 I had a Survivor-themed birthday party.  All of my buddies from school came over and everyone had the bandanas and this and that and had all of the challenges, so we went all-out on the 10th birthday.  And since my 10th birthday, that’s been it.  I don’t know if that makes us lame or whatever, but we don’t really celebrate birthdays that hard.  Sometimes I will just forget that it’s my birthday, but my birthday is on Friday.  I did qualify on the pole in Canada at the truck race on my birthday, so that was cool, but, otherwise, it’s just another day in the year and another tick on the calendar.  I don’t know, I guess I’m not that excitable when it comes to days.  I’d rather get excited about Christmas or Halloween or something like that.”


WHAT IS MORE SPECIAL ABOUT HALLOWEEN OR CHRISTMAS THAN A BIRTHDAY?  “I don’t like all of the focus being on me in that sense.  I mean, I’m a race car driver and I get to do all the other cool things, so I don’t need a day for myself, I guess.  That’s not just me being modest, that’s kind of how I feel.  I’m not someone who takes compliments very well and that kind of falls in the same category of everybody just caring about me for a day.  I’d rather just have a nice dinner and move on.  September 3rd no one gives a crap about you anyway.”


WHAT WERE SOME OF THE SURVIVOR CHALLENGES AND WHAT KIND OF FOOD DID YOU HAVE?  “I’m trying to remember what some of the challenges were, but we only had an evening.  It wasn’t a full 26 days or however long that show lasts.  My mom would certainly remember because she is definitely the crafty one.  She’s was certainly the master of a lot of this, but I do remember there always used to be the food challenge in Survivor, where you had to eat the gross foods and not throw up.  I think we did a certain extent of that, not too far, but I do remember one where you had the Oreo on top of your head and you’ve got to get the Oreo in your mouth without using your hands.  It was probably more like bar games than anything else for 10 year olds.”


DID YOU GET THE OREO?  “I did.  I’m pretty good at that one.  I’ve got good dexterity with my tongue.  Don’t read too far into that, but it’s just a talent, I guess.”


WHY DO YOU FEEL YOU’VE ADAPTED TO CUP EASIER THAN SOME OF THE OTHER ROOKIES THIS YEAR?  “It’s certainly hard to say, speaking on other guys and what their experience level is and how they’ve done, but I do feel like you look at the guys who have moved up over the last couple years and I feel like there’s been a pretty good wave that’s come through the Xfinity Series the last four or five years.  I feel like I’ve had the opportunity to go into my rookie season in Cup probably as best-prepared as anybody could be with the level of Cup experience I had before this season, the number of years I had in the Xfinity Series and working with the same team, so I certainly feel like I was set up for success in that sense, so a big credit to Team Penske for not only putting the faith in me, but also the right steps in place for that.  From that standpoint, I feel like I certainly had that opportunity and feel like I’ve taken advantage of it, but as far as this summer and leading into the playoffs I think we’ve been really consistent.  I feel like there have been a few races – Pocono and Watkins Glen come to mind, just races that I feel like I could have done a better job and kind of a good wake up call heading into a race like Darlington that what I do behind the wheel executing is certainly important and certainly plays a massive role in the car’s success during the weekend.”


IS THE MINDSET ANY DIFFERENT PREPARING FOR THE CUP PLAYOFFS THAN THE XFINITY PLAYOFFS?  “I think there’s a similar mindset.  The same amount of cars get eliminated, but you’ve just got an extra round.  From that standpoint, I’d say all of that is fairly similar.  Your competitors are different.  I would say the biggest difference between Cup and Xfinity is that in Cup there is a strong likelihood that you are racing against guys that aren’t in the playoffs, whereas in Xfinity you’re racing all guys in the playoffs so everybody is getting stage points.  There are really small margins to gain, whereas in the Cup Series I feel like there’s probably plenty of times you’re not gonna get stage points.  Anytime you get stage points is a big deals, whereas it’s kind of expected in Xfinity with the field that you’re racing with.  I think it’s just the depth in the field that plays that role.  Those stage points really make a large difference in advancing through rounds of the playoffs.”


A LOT OF YOUNG GUYS IN THE PLAYOFFS YOU HAVE RACED IN XFINITY.  IS THAT AN ADVANTAGE?  “Anybody else who has as little experience with me that’s along for the ride is probably an advantage or maybe at least common ground.”

WHAT DOES THE ROOKIE YEAR OF THE AWARD MEAN TO YOU?  “It’s one of those things you only really get one shot at having.  In the Truck Series and Xfinity Series I didn’t get that, so getting it in the Cup Series is certainly a big honor and, like I said, you’ve got one opportunity to do it and one rookie season and it’s certainly been a big positive.  That’s one box checked for the year, but certainly higher aspirations from there.”


DO YOU THINK BEING IN THE PLAYOFFS HELPS WITH GAINING RESPECT OR DO THEY STILL SEE THAT YELLOW BUMPER AND FEAR THE WORST?  “I walked into the shop today and I’ve got three yellow stripes on the back of my car now.  I’ve got one for the playoffs on the spoiler and I’ve got two on the bumper.  I’d like to keep three rookie stripes for as long as possible and I think that will pay dividends for what you just described.”


HAVE YOU GOTTEN ANY ADVICE FROM YOUR TEAMMATES?  OR DON’T THEY WANT TO GIVE UP ANY SECRETS?  “I can’t say I’ve really received any advice, so from that standpoint and to your latter point, there’s some truth to that, but, at the same time, I can’t say I’ve really asked.  I think the biggest thing is just doing it race by race, lap by lap.  From there, I think it’s easy to put a lot of pressure on the situation with the opportunity that’s there.  I mean, we’re talking about a shot to win a championship.  That’s only a few race wins away from being capable for somebody in this field of 16, so from my standpoint, it’s another race, another week.  Just like the Daytona 500 it’s the biggest race of the year, but it’s also just another race on the calendar and you’ve got to treat it as such.  Remember what has gotten you here.  Remember the process.  Trust the process, but from there no real additional advice.”

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