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Hybrid Schedule Will Help Cindric Continue To Learn En Route To First Full Cup Season
Hybrid Schedule Will Help Cindric Continue To Learn En Route To First Full Cup Season

The 2021 season will be full of learning and progression for defending NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric, and it all begins this weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

On Saturday, Cindric will take the green flag in the Xfinity Series season opener looking to defend his title against a crop of talent he believes has made the series stronger than ever. Because of that, the 22-year-old said he spent the offseason training, running laps in a simulator and more to continue to improve.

“My main focus is having more success in the Xfinity Series and trying to go for another championship,” he said. “As far as what my goals are for the year and how I achieve that, I think as a race car driver, whether you have a good year or a bad year, you have to continue to better yourself at whatever that level is, because everyone else around you is going to keep stepping it up. I’ve worked very hard this offseason, whether that’s physically or trying to get myself organized.”

Team Penske driver Cindric had a breakout year in 2020, scoring six wins and 26 top-10 finishes, and leading 947 laps, in 33 races. That performance led him to his first NASCAR championship in his 100th career Xfinity Series start last November at Phoenix Raceway.

Now that this season has arrived, Cindric will continue his goal of bettering himself through a unique opportunity in the NASCAR Cup Series, where he will run a partial schedule this season before taking over the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford full time in 2022. His entire selection of Cup Series races hasn’t been solidified yet, but he’s attempting to make his debut in this weekend’s Daytona 500.

Cindric takes center stage tonight as he attempts to make the 40-car field by racing his way in through the Duels at Daytona in the No. 33 Verizon 5G Ford for Team Penske. He posted the 19th-fastest speed in qualifying Wednesday night, the second best of the four Penske drivers.

However, Cindric was third fastest of the cars not locked into the field – referred to as an “open” car – meaning he is not locked into Sunday’s race. He starts 10th in Duel No. 1. If he is not the best finishing “open” car ahead of Ty Dillon and Timmy Hill, he will miss the Daytona 500.

“I start thinking about it and thinking through all the scenarios, and then I start to get a little anxious and nervous, even when I knew this was coming together (in January) and knowing the format and how many open cars there are this year,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”

While he obviously wants to gain valuable experience by racing in the 63rd edition of the race, Cindric said he and Team Penske are keeping their expectations in check for the Daytona 500.

“I think it’s a bonus if we get into the race, and I think everyone understands that and everyone respects that,” he said. “We’ll go forward putting our best effort in. It’s going to happen really fast, though. It won’t be easy, but I’m looking forward to it.”

For the son of Team Penske President Tim Cindric and grandson of Indianapolis 500 winning team owner Jim Trueman, this partial Cup Series schedule is an opportunity to prepare for 2022. But he plans to use what he learns immediately in his Xfinity Series title defense.

Whether or not he makes the 500-mile race, Cindric will gain 150 miles of experience in the qualifying race, which will give him an upper hand Saturday when he takes the green flag in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford in the Xfinity Series race against a field of drivers with limited experience at superspeedway tracks. And that will be his mentality for each Cup Series race he participates in this season.

“It’s a unique opportunity for me to have a scope of what the long-term plan looks like and apply that to the short term,” he said. “I’ll take what I learn from my Cup races this year and apply them to the Xfinity Series races. I think Saturdays had some really great shows last year. I think there’s more cars in the field this year than last that are capable of winning races, which is another reason to step up our game. I’m excited for that challenge.”

In building his partial schedule, Cindric said it was important to him that he is getting a wealth of knowledge in several different areas. He said he hopes to race on short tracks, road courses, 1.5-mile tracks and more in addition to this weekend’s superspeedway race.

The race for Cindric and Team Penske to learn and progress – a race within a race – starts now.

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