Ford Performance NASCAR: Austin Cindric Ford Zoom Call Transcript




American Muscle

Austin Cindric, driver of the No. 22 Pirtek Ford Mustang, comes into this weekend’s Round of 8 finale with a 14-point cushion over fifth-place Brandon Jones as drivers try to grab one of the three remaining berths in the Championship 4. Cindric was a guest on this week’s Ford Zoom call, where he talked about the weekend ahead.

AUSTIN CINDRIC, No. 22 Pirtek Ford Mustang — AFTER THE RACE ON SATURDAY YOU SAID YOU WEREN’T SURE WHAT EMOTION YOU SHOULD BE FEELING. WHERE DID YOU END UP IN THAT REGARD? “I think as a team we’re fairly satisfied with the way things worked out at Texas with probably the underlying factor of that being Harrison winning the race. That honestly saved a lot of points for us and really has us second in points, 14 points above the cut, which is more than six times what we had before, so from an overall perspective we scored the second-most points in the race and on paper it was a good day, but in the seat of the race car and probably on our team radio it probably wasn’t the greatest day. We started out way too free to begin the race. We had to waste a set of tires and slowly got our Menards/Richmond Ford Mustang to where we were quick enough to contend for the win or at least be in the top three there. And then the 7 and the 10 racing each other kind of gifted us the lead there. I was on a set of tires that already had cords on them, and against new tires I think it’s 50/50 whether or not I’d pick the bottom or the top on the restart. Obviously, if I picked the bottom I’d have a much better chance in three and four, but I also didn’t want to be vulnerable on the bottom in one and two there, so re-watching it I probably didn’t have much of a better option there. Three and four it didn’t stick. The PJ1 wasn’t as activated. There was speedy dry on the racetrack and I almost wrecked the car and ended up finishing fourth. It was a wide range of emotions for a playoff race, a really good heads-up by my team, Coleman on the roof, and kind of everyone keeping cool heads all day and obviously that paid dividends. With that being said, now we go to Martinsville, which is probably the biggest unknown on the schedule and I guess we’re in a better position than anyone else other than the 98, which isn’t saying much given the margin of points between everybody.”

WHAT ABOUT THE CHALLENGE OF RACING AT MARTINSVILLE, WHERE MANY PEOPLE IN THE FIELD HAVEN’T RACED THESE CARS THERE BEFORE? “I feel like it’s definitely gonna be a challenge. It’s gonna be a point of focus for me and my team to come there as prepared as we can be. Obviously, our Cup cars have been able to run well there in the past and although those cars really don’t have as many similarities as you’d like, especially at a racetrack like that, hoping to use some of those notes to get us at least with a better starting point than the rest. I think the mentality is that you want to leave adjustability in your race car and you want to be as close to the mark or closer than everybody else will be. There will be points in the race where I’m not gonna be happy with my car and we’re gonna have to work on it. I think that’s everyone’s reality, but from what I understand we’re probably gonna be starting on the pole if not the front row. I haven’t been there in three years, so it’ll be the blind leading the blind and hopefully track position can mean something there at least as far as getting stage points for us. I think that’s probably the most critical part of our race to get out of the way to where we can just have a solid finish and advance on to what would be the most important goal of the year, which is to make the final four.”

DO YOU EXPECT THE RACE ITSELF TO BE MORE UNPREDICTABLE SINCE THIS WILL BE THE FIRST TIME IN THE CARS FOR A LOT OF THE DRIVERS AT THIS TRACK? “I think of it two ways. We’ve seen in the Xfinity Series this year even guys that you don’t expect to run up front even on some of these short tracks because our cars don’t have a lot of downforce. We struggle to put down the power, so I’d expect it to almost be like in the trucks, where you’ve got guys that you don’t expect to be running up front and they’re running up front, whether if that’s in the top 10 or the top 5, so I feel like from a fan perspective there’s a great possibility for that. On the flip side, I think from a racing standpoint everyone is gonna be learning what’s possible and what’s not. Obviously, the durable nature of an Xfinity car I think is gonna give a lot of people some second chances in that race, so unless you hit really hard, you’re not out. I think there’s gonna be plenty of playoff drivers that are gonna have to never give up all race with how aggressive the style of racing is at Martinsville as of late in the Xfinity Series, so hopefully staying out of trouble. Hopefully, stay in front of the mess is my number one goal, but, if not, picking and choosing the right battles, I think, is going to be very important.”

ARE YOU GOING TO WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE POINTS SITUATION OR WHO IS ABOUT TO WRECK WHO AT MARTINSVILLE? “I think yes to both. Honestly, we had our debrief on Monday and with as many tempers flaring up at Texas as we had, I mean, it’s great to know who is pissed off at who because if you’re in the middle of a sandwich of guys that don’t like each other, it’s always good to know that. So, having the right people scanning is gonna be important and having the right people scanning and knowing what other people are struggling with, especially for a race where there’s gonna be so many discrepancies as far as who is struggling with what and how close your car is. I think those are things that are gonna be important, but, as always, knowing the points. Obviously, I know who I’m racing and know who I need to get points over and getting ourselves in a position to where we can get stage points and then be in the final stage and just have a solid race. I think that would be an ideal scenario. Obviously, we want to win the race, but I think knowing those two things will be just as important if not more important than most weekends.”

ANY CONCERNS IF YOUR RACE GETS PUSHED TO SUNDAY OR MONDAY IF CUP CAN’T GET DONE IN TEXAS UNTIL THURSDAY? “I don’t have any concerns necessarily. Obviously, the more days — if we get the chance to advance on to Phoenix, the more days my guys have to work on our Phoenix car before that event, the better. So, from that standpoint, yeah, I hope our race gets done on time. Obviously, schedule-wise there’s a lot of logistics that are above me, but one of the small ones being my seat insert is currently still at Texas because I have one that rides on the Cup hauler that will go in the Martinsville car, so small logistics. But, overall, as long as we get our race in and put on a good show, that’s all my concerns are.”

I ASSUME YOU HAVE ANOTHER SEAT INSERT? “Not in particular. There are ways to circumvent our situation, but currently it’s just gonna come home on a plane after Texas. If not, there are ways we can get it back, so not a big concern, just more or less kind of a seat fitting thing for this week, just a check that’s kind of had a bump in the road, but not a major issue.”


DOES YOUR APPROACH CHANGE THIS WEEKEND SINCE YOU HAVEN’T RACED AT MARTINSVILLE IN THREE YEARS? “I think it does and it doesn’t. Obviously, the track itself hasn’t necessarily changed a whole lot in the time since I’ve raced there, but I also think as a driver I’ve really understood a lot more about these cars and what makes them happy on short tracks, and I feel like my last couple Martinsville races weren’t exactly to my liking, at least in the Truck Series, so I’m looking forward on a personal level to applying the things that I’ve learned in three years time and seeing the benefits of that and hoping to put on a good performance. The Xfinity cars haven’t raced there in a while, so in some ways it’s a clean slate, but, at the same time, managing our own expectations while managing the points while managing my own goals is probably the three for the weekend for us.”

YOU HAVE THE DEAL ANNOUNCED OF STAYING IN NXS NEXT YEAR AND THEN MOVING TO THE 21 IN CUP IN 2022. HOW COMFORTING IS THAT FOR A DRIVER TO KNOW THEIR LONG-TERM PLANS? “As a driver, I think the biggest advantage for me is I know where to put my focus. It’s the first time in my career I’ve been able to put plans together that put me racing at the highest level, and that’s no small feat I’m very, very grateful and appreciative of that kind of an opportunity. At the same token, it’s kind of funny, you can look at the way everything has worked out as far as that program goes. Jimmie Johnson announced and Hendrick Motorsports announced in 2000 that Jimmie was going full-time with Hendrick in 2002, so a year ahead of time and a very similar situation for us, so I think some of those scenarios, hopefully I can translate some of that success that he’s had, but, overall, giving me a year to know what to focus on, whether that’s physically, mentally, on the racetrack. I’ve always approached from the start of this year they talk about how durable the Xfinity cars are and how they drive, but I’ve really watched and understood what things would get me in trouble in Cup races and try to prevent those things from happening in Xfinity races, whether if it’s wall contact or how you race other guys and so on. So, things like that I’ll continue to be able to perfect on, which I think is a great opportunity. I think it’s a great opportunity for the group of guys I work with currently to be able to really refine the small details, which I think we’ve already been doing this year, and I think another year is a great opportunity to be able to do that.”

IS THERE A WAY YOU THINK NASCAR COULD RACE ON SHORT TRACK OVALS IN THE RAIN OR IS THAT A PIPE DREAM? “I think it’s a dream. I definitely think it’s a dream. The bigger tracks are completely out of the question. When we’re racing at the Roval at 65 miles an hour and we can’t see two feet in front of us, obviously that’s only going to be magnified at a high level on places where we’re getting up to pretty high speeds, so I think it’s a dream. I think it’s a fun idea, but I think would be a very short-lived idea.”

HOW FAST WERE YOU GOING ON THE OVAL PORTION? “I would imagine we were up to probably 130-140 miles an hour going around the Roval at high-speed, and the restarts were what was really difficult from my recollection of that race alone. It being very dark outside and our headlights being decals don’t exactly help visibility, but, overall, I think conditions-wise that was probably the worst you’re ever gonna experience, so with that being said, the other challenge is what sort of a rain tire would you have for an oval. We talked about on road courses or the Roval in general, even in the dry, Goodyear had to do a lot of work to make a tire that could withstand the loading from the banking and obviously any small oval we’re gonna have is gonna have banking, so having a tire that’s soft enough to generate grip in the wet, but also at high loads, I think that would be a very difficult thing to do. You don’t really get too many testing scenarios to be able to test in the wet, so, like I said, I think it’s a dream. I think it would be cool to see once and probably never again.”

YOU’LL MAKE SOME CUP STARTS NEXT YEAR WITH THE CURRENT CAR AND THEN SWITCH TO THE NEXT GEN IN 2022. WILL THAT BE A CHALLENGE? “I genuinely like the opportunity of being able to drive the current car at least for a few races, purely from the back of everyone knows and expects that any rookie Cup driver is gonna struggle in some ways and gonna learn a lot. I feel like it’s easier to learn in a car that’s proven year after year after year, where the team I’m driving for has an incredible notebook. The drivers that I’d be teammates with are incredibly talented and know what these cars need, and I’ll be able to learn at a quicker rate, I feel like, or at least learn what my weaknesses are better with driving races in the current car. Obviously, the new car sets up a lot of opportunities, but I think a lot of variables as well for anyone who is a rookie driver, so I think it’s a really great opportunity that I’m gonna be able to drive in a proven car in a proven environment and with drivers that have really refined their skills in that type of car, and then obviously take whatever I learn in those races next year and apply them to 2022.”

HAVE YOU RACED AT COTA BEFORE AND WHAT CAN DRIVERS EXPECT NEXT YEAR? “Yes, I raced there in 2015 and 2016 — sports car races — and I think the coolest thing about it being added to the schedule is the same reason why Nashville is cool because that place is so close to Austin, Texas. Obviously, you’re gonna get a great fan base to come out and enjoy that race, and really be promoted in a big city like Austin. I think NASCAR culture fits in well, similar to Nashville, so I think that’s the biggest thing I’d be looking forward to as a driver or a fan or a team member for that event. Obviously, with COTA it’s a lot of runoff. There’s a lot of paved portions of the racetrack, so I feel like there’s gonna be some challenges in some areas as far as trying to understand what track limits mean, trying to understand what brake zones, especially at the end of the back straightaway if there is proper amount of runoff for the kind of speed we’d be carrying, so all of those things I think are factors NASCAR is probably considering, but as far as from the track itself from my understanding that place has really aged in the last couple years to where I would expect similar tire wear to Road America and Sonoma, so a very variable race and I think that could be fun for the fans.”

GOING UP THAT HILL INTO TURN ONE EVEN FOR THE MOST EXPERIENCE ROAD COURSE RACERS THAT’S A PRETTY HAIRY TURN. HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR THAT IN A 3400-POUND STOCK CAR? “I think the uphill portion helps in the stock cars. Usually, downhill brake zones lend themselves to some pretty bad wheel hop in our cars, so I think the fact that it’s uphill is nice, but in a lot of different cars, whether it be Indy Car, Formula One, sports car stuff that has raced there in the past, there are a lot of hurt feelings in turn one because the corner is pretty sharp and blind at the top of the hill and restarts you can be pretty opportunistic. So, I think the fans are really gonna enjoy those restarts and the very big, wide uphill inviting turn one is gonna be cool for restarts, but, like I said, probably a lot of hurt feelings as well.”

WOULD YOU BE IN FAVOR OF A COMBINED PRACTICE/QUALIFYING WHERE TOP SPEEDS IN PRACTICE WERE USED FOR QUALIFYING AS OPPOSED TO THE CURRENT SYSTEM NASCAR IS USING FOR NEXT YEAR? “I think that gets messy because you’ll have guys taping up, cooling off their cars and trying to get clean laps, whether if it’s drafting or getting behind somebody. I feel like if they’re not gonna do a traditional qualifying session, the way they have it is fine as far as just a points rating system. They’ve got enough aspects in there. I think the only thing that hurts you, especially like in the playoff format, is if you have a bad finish from the week before it affects the following week. I feel like that’s the only negative, but in the regular season I’m not sure that’s as big of a factor.”

IS THERE ANY DISAPPOINTMENT THAT YOU WON’T GET TO COMPETE AGAINST CHASE BRISCOE FOR CUP ROOKIE OF THE YEAR NEXT SEASON? “I think as he and I have progressed through our careers, whether it be ARCA, Trucks, Xfinity he and I have always thought it would be really cool to move up together. I think the folks from Ford would also agree that that would be really cool as far as from a development standpoint because we’ve shared a lot of the same lessons together. But as far as opportunities come it’s hard to find an opportunity to race at the highest level and race in Cup, especially in good equipment and he’s got an incredible opportunity to go in really good equipment and go try and prove himself at the highest level. I have the same opportunity, but it comes a year after. I think for us to both have opportunities at the highest level is special, it’s important, it’s a great credit to the people from Ford, so with that being said I’ll be quietly rooting him on, but at the same standpoint I wish we could keep racing because we’ve had a lot of fun this year. I hope we get to race him for a championship and make his life a little hard. He’s had a pretty easy playoffs. We’ve had a pretty rough playoff, so hopefully we can make life difficult for his last Xfinity race.”

WAS IT TOUGH TO ACCEPT YOUR SITUATION OR THE FACT ROGER PENSKE IS GIVING YOU A LONG-TERM PLAN DID THAT OVERRIDE ANY DISAPPOINTMENT? “I don’t think there was any disappointment for me as far as what we agreed to. Anyone will tell you the opportunity to go in a race car and try to win a race, whether if it’s at the Xfinity level, the Cup level is a great opportunity and to be able to do that at a full effort next year is a spectacular opportunity. There are probably plenty of people who would jump at that opportunity to go try to win races for Roger Penske, so I’m excited about that. I’m excited to build off of what we’ve already had this year and really go back to Bristol, a perfect example, somewhere where we were there, we were gonna win the race and you lose power-steering and you leave that track thinking, ‘Man, if I get to come back here and do it again, I really want to.’ We’ve had a lot of moments like that this year, so I think from a personal level it will be very gratifying to try and kind of step back up and pick up where we left off, so I’m excited for that opportunity, but to have a long-term plan past that is a unique opportunity and it’s one that I really cherish and look to take the most of.”

WHEN YOU GOT YOUR FIRST OVAL WIN THIS SEASON WHAT EMOTION DID YOU HAVE? “I think for me it’s a checked box. I think it goes without saying, whether it’s in the playoff format or not, the most important thing in NASCAR racing is to win races. There’s not a podium in NASCAR for a reason — they only give out one trophy at the end of all these races for a reason, so for us to be able to check that box, I think, was very important for us as a team to just get the monkey off our back and also from a competitive standpoint to really understand that we’re a contender at all types of racetracks, something that we’ve known we’ve been able to do for a while, so with that being said I think it was great to check the box and move on. Obviously, we have a lot more oval races on our schedule than road races and we’ve had a lot of fun at a lot of different racetracks this year.”

YOU WERE EIGHTH IN THE MARCH RACE AT PHOENIX. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE CAR AND COMFORT LEVEL WITH THE TRACK? “I’ve actually raced in Phoenix for the last five years in NASCAR, whether it be Trucks or Xfinity, so my comfort level with Phoenix is probably higher than any other racetrack. I think from a driver standpoint and from my standpoint I feel really good about the place. I feel like I’ve been able to really refine what I need out of my race car from that track and it showed in qualifying and it showed in the first stage, and then as the track moved up with the traction compound, which we all seem to expect to be intended to be the same from NASCAR’s standpoint, when that moved up for us last year it took a lot of advantages and things that I built in my car away. So, I think it was a great learning opportunity for us. Obviously, if we would have practice there, that would be great but we don’t, so I think with the track moving up I think it exposed some of our weaknesses. I feel like as a team we’re gonna have to be a bit aggressive on our setup and how we approach the weekend to turn those weaknesses into advantages again. I feel fine about it. I’m confident in my team. We’ve approached a lot of different racetracks with different setups that we’ve never put on our race cars before and we’ve been able to do well, so I have full confidence that we’ll be able to come there prepared and I think for us we have to be a bit open-minded, but overall I think if we’re there, we’ve got a shot.”

YOUR DAD HAS SAID HE ADVISED YOU NOT TO TURN DOWN A GOOD OPPORTUNITY BECAUSE OF WHO HE IS AND WHAT YOUR LAST NAME IS. IS THAT THE APPROACH YOU’VE TAKEN IN LOOKING AT THE OPPORTUNITIES AND GETTING TO GO TO THE 21 IN 2022? “Yeah, I think the hardest thing in racing is to get your foot in the door. Once you’re inside, the ball is in your court, especially when you’re driving for someone like Roger Penske, so I don’t take any opportunity lightly, especially to drive really competitive race cars, so I’m excited for what I have in front of me, and I think the people around me and the people that have helped develop me, whether that’s the people at Penske or the people at Ford are just as deserving of that kind of an opportunity as I am, so I think we’ve earned it up to this point and, like I’ve said all day today, I feel like I know what my challenges are — at least have a better opportunity to know how to approach them, so I think that’s an advantage for me and try to make the most of it.”

WHAT HAVE YOU NOTICED ABOUT CHASE AND HIS DEVELOPMENT OVER THE LAST YEAR OR TWO? “It’s probably not my position to speculate on Chase’s development, but I feel like he and I have had completely polar opposite things to learn as far as in our NASCAR careers. It’s been fun to watch him succeed. He’s maybe done that a little too much this year, but there’s still time to reel that back in, but it’s been fun to see him have success. He comes from a great family and it’s been a joy to get to know him and race against him. I feel like he’s one of the few guys I can race hard every single lap and know that I’m gonna be raced fair the same way. It’s been fun, but there’s still a job to do and he’s done a very good job at what he’s accomplished this year, and the situation he’s in, obviously he’s earned the right to move up to the Cup Series and I look forward to racing him at the top level some day.”

WHAT WILL BE YOUR PRIMARY SPONSOR FOR PHOENIX? “I’ll be in the Menards car for Phoenix.”

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