NASCAR: Daytona 500 Post-Race Press Conference
- Austin Cindric, Winner Daytona 500 and Son the Team Penske President Tim Cindric
- Roger Penske, Team Penske Owner
An Interview with: Austin Cindric
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our Daytona 500 championship winning driver, Austin Cindric, driver of the No. 2 Discount Tire Ford for Team Penske.
I noticed after you finished you were sitting on the hood of the car staring up at the grandstand. Why? What was going through your mind? What were you thinking?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Well, I broke the car. I broke the starter, and I blew out the right rear tire. Don’t think that’s anything bad. But yeah, I was kind of stranded, so definitely a good time to collect my thoughts and just appreciate the moment there for a minute to be able to do this in front of a sellout crowd, to be able to do this in general, to be able to be part of this race, having a shot.
It’s a racer’s dream, and so many people get close to it, and I feel very grateful and very proud to be able to pull it off.
I know it was your second start, but as a Cup rookie coming in to this morning, did you think you could win this race? If so, where did that confidence come from?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: I’ll be honest, I knew I had the car to do it, but there’s so many things that have to play out correctly in putting yourself in position.
And I think we learned throughout the race with myself, my spotter, and Jeremy as well, is doing the right strategy, the right calls and setting up the right lanes to be able to put ourselves in position.
Sometimes that’s all you can hope for, and sometimes you have to force people to help you. I definitely didn’t expect any help throughout the day. I did get some from the Fords, and I think Ford’s done an incredible job with this new car, and I think it’s obviously shown the first couple races.
Just proud to be able to do it, proud to be able to hold off those runs at the end of the race. And it means the world to me to sit here and be able to say I’m a Daytona 500 winner.
Can you talk about that run at the end, that last Turn 4 to the finish?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, it’s probably been an hour since the race has been over, I still haven’t even seen the race. Once I crossed the start-finish line for the white flag, everyone behind me bailed. Everyone started lifting. Everyone was trying to get their runs, and I was probably 20 percent throttle for most of the last lap, just trying to stay relatively close to where I could at least defend something or be able to be close enough to be able to get to the tri-oval.
I knew if I got to the tri-oval and I was nose ahead, I would get it. I actually learned that Thursday night. But for me, yeah, just holding off the wolves, it’s the race that means everything to everybody. Once you come off of 4, all gloves are off and everybody wants it.
You never got a chance to know your grandfather on your mother’s side, the great Jim Trueman. He won the Indy 500 as a team owner 10 days before he died of cancer. I’m sure you’ve heard all the stories. What do you think he’d be thinking right now to know that his grandson is a Daytona 500 winner?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, it’s hard to speculate on that, but obviously I’ve met a lot of people throughout my life, and even watching the Willy T. Ribbs documentary, if I haven’t watched that, I learned more about my grandfather than I ever have throughout most of my years on this earth.
He was an incredible man and led an incredible life, and racing meant a lot to him, and racing has meant a lot to my family.
To be able to say that I’ve been able to accomplish this, there’s nothing more important to me than racing. There’s nothing more important to me than being part of this sport. And to think that I’m a Daytona 500 winner, you can’t take that away; and he’s an Indy 500 winner, you can’t take that away from him.
You grew up around Roger Penske as a small child, running around, you were a big Helio fan. In some ways has he served a little bit of a role as a grandfatherly type to you in addition to being your boss?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, he’s a lot more than just my boss, when I think of it. Next to my parents, he’s probably been the most influential person on my life, whether leading by example or the way he treats people, the way he runs his business and how he is with his family.
If I can be half the man Roger Penske is, I’d say I’ve lived a good life.
Think of an amazing opportunity. A lot of people talk about I get the opportunities that I do and I’ve become successful because of who my father is and what he’s done in his life, and I think it’s the exposure to those people have meant more to me, have meant more to my career, as far as leading and doing things the right way, than any other advantage anyone else can have.
So I feel really blessed to be able to do that and utilize that experience in my life from a young age, to be able to put myself on the front of the biggest stage and obviously have a great time doing it.
You were in this race a year ago, obviously, but it looked like a completely different style of racing today. Was there anything from last year that you learned that you could apply to today’s race?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: I think the biggest thing is the competitors. When you come up from the Xfinity Series, I spent four years in that series, and I said it when we were here on Media Days, the biggest transition, especially on plate races, for me is to learn my competitors.
That was kind of my first eye in to the Cup Series, and let alone having more competitive cars, but these guys are the best. And you can expect them to make the right moves for them, which in some ways I really enjoy because it makes my job harder yet easier because you’re expecting everyone to do the best thing possible and everyone to be perfect.
I think that it’s an incredible opportunity for me to be able to run it last year and get some experience up front, but also to be able to come back here today and to be able to be a contender throughout the entire event means a lot, says a lot about my team, says a lot about my race car, and it’s obviously a great foundation to start the year.
You were around Brad Keselowski today pushing him early a lot. Are you conscious of that in the moment, just the irony of that? But I guess more importantly, what allowed you guys to work so well together?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Well, I think it falls back on guys being really, really good, and Brad is really good at this style of racing. That’s why he was up front a lot of the day.
And I’ve learned a lot from Brad throughout my career. Obviously to be in the 2 car and run tandem for so long as what we did, it was kind of cool, especially early parts there in the beginning of the race. But I also did learn a lot, whether if I was being the pusher for Blaney or for Brad, as far as what that second car meant to the runs and things.
(Video stream interruption.)
That you put to use?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: It’s a long list that I plan on doing before I go to bed tonight. There’s so much different about this car, but at the same time it is the same style of racing.
I think a fan from the grandstands could have looked at this and go, oh, this is Daytona with NASCARs but with — man, I keep doing that, too. I keep calling them NASCARs, and all these people look at me like I have four guys. Like it’s a NASCAR to me, but it’s a race car, it’s a Cup car to everybody else. So I’ll get better at that.
But it’s still the same style of racing, but the cars themselves are a lot different. The runs bode a lot differently. It was really interesting to see who picked up on different things throughout the race, even in practice, and learned — like you said, 400 miles in, learned a lot about it and got ourselves really good track position by the end of the race.
I think I knew what I was going to have to do to be able to hold cars off if I was in that opportunity.
With the driver who averaged a 17th-place finish as a rookie in the Xfinity Series, could that driver envision this day?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: The driver that spun in front of the entire Xfinity field in 2018 on like lap 6? Probably not. Probably not. You probably couldn’t have picked me up from the care center and said, you’re going to win the Daytona 500 one day. I probably would have said, “Bullshit.”
But we’ve come a long way since then. It’s a very big credit to a lot of the people around me that have believed in me. I’ve driven a lot of different race cars in my career, a lot of different race cars at this track alone, and I’ve seen the highs and lows of it. I have a lot of perspective from friends, competitors, co-drivers, teammates. This race means so much to so many people, and just very humbled to be able to get it done.
You touched on this a little bit, but the silver spoon nepotism claims have been around motorsports forever. What’s this mean for you all those whispers that have followed you throughout your career?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: I’m not sure — I would say I’m not an externally motivated person and I’m not an externally intimidated person. My head is pretty much in the game 24/7. I don’t think about much, anything else, except for racing. I don’t have much of a social life. I hardly do anything else but go to the race shop and spend time either staring at my race cars or working out or spending time with my crew chief.
For me, I guess I don’t have time for the noise. But if there’s anything I have left to prove, I’m not sure what it is. But otherwise I’m very proud of the family that I’ve come from, the person that my dad is and the way he leads our team. I’m very proud to be exposed to that, like I said before, with my exposure with my parents and Roger Penske. I think that’s my biggest asset, is not who he is but who he is, if that makes sense.
In your opening statement on the interview on TV, you made mention of a packed house. For a young guy like you who the last couple years you’ve raced in a pandemic, no fans in the stands or very little fans, to have this kind of a stage, quite frankly, a stadium and all these people cheering you on, seeing their reaction, how different has it made this experience for you? If you can imagine what it might have been like — well, you were here a year ago, and to have an almost empty place, to do what you did in front of this crowd, it had to be exhilarating.
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, it means a lot to me because this sport and my career, what I get to do for a living is all I want. To see so many people take joy from the things that I love, it’s very gratifying.
But from that standpoint, I try to let myself smell the roses today, and I never did. It’s just not who I am. I’m way too competitive. I know how much is at stake and how much work I’ve put in to really pay attention to it. Like I said, I’m not externally motivated or intimidated. It’s just part of the process.
But I think it says a lot about our sport, to your point about a lot of races under COVID over the last two years. The funny thing is a lot of my success in the Xfinity Series, especially in 2020, came in an incubator. And when we got fans back at the racetrack, all of a sudden everybody knew who I was, and that was really weird for me.
I had to actually leave time to go places. And I still consider myself a nobody, but even walking through the garage, I’m not Kyle Busch, I’m not Joey Logano, but I guess I am tall and somewhat recognizable.
But otherwise it’s definitely a new experience for me. But like I said, to have what means the world to me make so many people — bring so many people so much joy, it makes my job pretty gratifying.
Can you feel the vibe and the energy, just this refreshed energy that NASCAR is kind of like on a roll right now?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Well, I think NASCAR has been doing a lot of things right. I think as far as being aggressive, as far as our strategy, as far as the cars, as far as a race like the Clash, I think in the future there’s a lot more opportunities with the package that we have.
And you even saw it this weekend with the 21 car being able to fix their car, not having to go to a backup. Last year that would have been a backup.
I think our sport is changing in the right direction, and to have a packed house here is another great example of that. Our leadership has done an incredible job. I’m not just saying that because they’re technically my bosses, but they really have, and it shows.
Bubba, you just got him by a nose. He said out there he thought he had it those last 10 laps. He thought it was his race to lose. Did you feel that way about your ride?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: I felt like I had a really good chance to lose it, and to lose it means you’ve got a shot to win it. Being on the front row for the last couple restarts of the Daytona 500, you can’t really envision a better case scenario for you as a driver. That red flag, you definitely have time to reflect, and you can either reflect on what you’re going to do when you succeed or how you’re going to succeed, and I definitely lived in the moment there trying to figure it out.
I know there’s a lot of people that want this really bad, and he’s definitely one of them and he’s worked hard for it and puts himself in position a lot of these races.
It was really cool he came up to me many Victory Lane and congratulated us. Definitely a hard worker, as well, but definitely means a lot to pull it off like that.
The year that you went to Roger and said, I’d like to go to Cup next year, and he kind of talked that down, was that a major blow to you, that you felt like you had proved yourself in Xfinity and you wondered why can’t I go forward? Did that bother you a lot?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: I would say that’s not entirely accurate, but the situation in 2020 right around August, the playoffs hadn’t started yet and I hadn’t won the championship yet, and I’d obviously won five races to that point, but we went to Michigan, we talked about it, we talked about the options of what was possible.
And at that time I didn’t even think an Xfinity season in 2021 was possible. I knew how close we were to shutting down the Xfinity program in 2020. Roger obviously said that after we won the championship.
So I considered that a non-option as far as my career. I had already talked to other teams and other situations, trying to figure out what I would do with my career if I can’t go Xfinity racing or if I can’t go Cup racing. At the time the car itself, all four Penske-affiliated cars, were full.
At that time you definitely recognize that there’s no right or wrong way to do driver development. And I forget who brought it up, but obviously when I drove my first Xfinity race here at Daytona, I was not ready to go Xfinity racing, and I proved it.
But sometimes you don’t get to pick those opportunities. BKR shuts down, I’ve got to go to Xfinity. I have no truck opportunities. There’s no Ford in Truck Series at that time. And you have to make the most of things.
I think my opportunity to run Xfinity last year and race for a championship again and be able to hone in on a lot of the small details, I think that’s what it takes to be the best on Sundays, is be really good at the small details consistently.
I wasn’t offended by it at all. I was probably surprised that we had the opportunity to even run an Xfinity car again. And I think it certainly paid off. And like I’ve said before, his leadership is second to none, and I’m not going to be the one that’s going to second-guess Roger Penske’s judgment.
There in the last lap, look in your rear view mirror on the backstretch, you’ve got your new teammate and the newest star of Penske, Ryan Blaney. You’ve got the star of old with Brad Keselowski. You’ve come up in the Penske system over the last decade. You’ve seen those guys grow. What’s it like being on the same level as them now and getting to battle them on the sport’s biggest stage?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: I will say that I do not feel like I’m on the same level as those guys. I have a lot of respect for Ryan and kind of the leader that he’s turned into in our race team. I don’t think it’s because Brad’s departure, I think even you last year Ryan you saw it, Ryan was probably our strongest guy every weekend.
I have a lot of respect for Ryan and the driver that he’s become over the last couple years, and obviously my relationship with Brad.
I also know those are two guys that have come really close a lot of times to winning Daytona 500s, and they would not want me to win it before them. Definitely a lot of perspective there, but I really appreciate their leadership and what they’ve taught me throughout my career.
But in that moment, you kind of have to block all that out and know they want to win just as badly or worse than you do. That’s where I was in the moment, but at the same time, off of Turn 4, they’re just another competitor.
How does it feel to be locked into the playoffs already?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: It feels good. It feels good. I thought you were going to have to win a race to get in the playoffs this year, and we’re in the playoffs. We’re in the All-Star Race. I can’t tell you the last year the 2 car hasn’t won a race. So I’d say that’s a little bit of weight off the shoulders there.
I know there’s going to be a lot of highs and lows in a rookie season. There’s going to be a lot of highs and lows with a new race car. So to be able to give ourselves that type of security this early in the season gives us some flexibility, gives me time to be patient.
I think that’s the biggest thing because even through testing I have to remind myself to be patient. If it’s the drivers that I’m now competing against or a new situation, I think patience is certainly going to pay off to make sure I don’t miss anything throughout the learning process.
Kind of going back to the first question you were asked, when you’re on the frontstretch, your car is broke, the team is slowly putting new tires on the back of your car and you’re just sitting in your car. How surreal was that period of time for you?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Reminds me of my first Xfinity win when I blew the clutch out at Watkins Glen and I just sat there. That one I could push back by myself, and I did for a while. This one I was stuck on the banking with a broken starter and no right rear tire.
Overall, it was definitely a good opportunity to reflect. But, yeah, just an amazing opportunity to sit there and take everything in. Those are moments I’m never going to be able to get back.
If I’m able to come here and win this race again and put myself in position again, I think every race is different, every experience is different. At this moment of my life, I can’t think of anything more amazing and more gratifying than winning this race specifically. It’s a lot of hard work, like you said. It’s all I care about, it’s all I think about, and that’s what’s gotten me this far.
After you leave here, what’s the first step in Austin Cindric’s celebration night?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: I can’t say I’ve thought that far ahead. I guess it depends on who’s left from the race team, who’s still here. I’ve already had a phone call with people asking me what I need to grab from my closet in the Airstream to put in my bag, so I’ve got a spare pair of underwear — I did not pack an extra set of clothes, by the way. So I’m not that confident. I’ll be re-wearing my clothes from today tomorrow. And I will have fresh underwear, so that’s a win.
Thinking back, if you can, back to early in the race, the incident with Chase Briscoe and Kaz Grala’s loose wheel, how close do you feel that came to disrupting your entire race?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, I’m not quite sure if the 14 spotted the tire before we did. Obviously I just ran over him and spun out, and I’m glad I didn’t really cost him anything in the race. So it didn’t really actually change the race really at all for anybody. No harm, no foul.
Definitely an oh, shit moment pretty early on. But otherwise didn’t really change a whole lot. You kind of have to put that behind you pretty quickly.
At some point in your career, I think you’ve touched on it in the past, you made a decision that you were going to be a NASCAR driver. When you think about it now, why were you so determined that that was the right course for you, and did you expect the decision to pay off so quickly?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, I mean, the situation you’re referencing, in 2017 I had the opportunity that I’ve probably been working for for the last three or four years, which was to be a manufacturer-backed sports car driver, and I had a great opportunity lined up for me that I had worked hard for.
And at the same time I had done a few ARCA races, a few truck races that went fairly well, and I had the opportunity to go full-time truck racing. Think about the world being your oyster as a young driver, you actually have the opportunity to choose that.
I think when it comes to this sport, I think obviously this is the biggest stage in American motorsports, but I don’t think you get a second chance to make a NASCAR career work. There are very few people that have been able to do that.
And for me, that was an opportunity to take advantage of that. And obviously it’s gotten me this far. And I’ve been able to still keep ties to that side of racing, and I still have a lot of passion for that side of racing.
If anyone watched the Rolex 24 or anything like that, that’s kind of my passion project every year, but otherwise, yeah, certainly a defining moment kind of in the path of my career.
Obviously this is kind of a capstone goal for you. Now that you’ve won the Daytona 500, what other things fuel you to keep going? What other things are your fuel or motivation? I know you mentioned Rolex 24 is your passion project, but is there anything outside of racing that motivates you, as well?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Outside of racing? I have a project car that I’ve spent the last four years working on and haven’t touched it in four months. But otherwise, outside of racing, absolutely not. I don’t have any plans or thoughts or ideas past that.
As far as what’s after the Daytona 500, there’s a race next week that needs to be won by somebody, so got to start focusing on that at some point. I’ll try and smell the roses before Fontana, but otherwise I do subjugate the Daytona 500 in a different category than the races early in the season. I look at it as another exhibition race throughout the year, and this is obviously the biggest race of them all.
Yeah, I’d put that on the list of Daytona 500, Indy 500, Le Mans, Rolex 24. I want to do them all. I want to be successful at them all. I would say the only one that I want to do that I have zero desire to actually just be successful is probably Baja. I just want to do it.
But otherwise, certainly a lot of lofty goals for a 23-year-old. But definitely an awesome box to check if I check any of the rest of them.
Mario Andretti called what you did today a most brilliant drive. How does getting a compliment from somebody like that and what he said make you feel?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: He’s a legend. The last time I saw Mario Andretti I think was before the season started last year. I looked him in the eye, I said, Do you have any advice for me? He says, Whatever you do, stand on it. That’s it. Stand on it.
I can’t think of any better advice you can give a race car driver than telling him to stand on it.
Mario is an absolute legend. He’s an icon. I think he’s a household name and someone that definitely has made his name in this sport and a lot of other forms of motorsports. It’s cool to check off one thing that he’s done.
I’m going to take you back to September 2016 at Chicagoland, ARCA race in the 99 PIRTEK car. You’re standing there, basically nobody around. I asked you for a shot of you next to your car, and you walked straight up and took the shot, and you thanked me. I’ve watched you since then, and you seemed to have stayed the same type of individual — easygoing, no stress, personable young man — you were back then almost six years later now. You’re born into the sport, but there’s lots of guys and girls born into the sport that sometimes can’t handle it or aren’t able to stay that grounded, if you want to call it that. Is there any one thing or a lot of things that keep you the way you are?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Well, thank you for the compliment. It’s certainly a way I certainly try and lead my life, whether if it’s friends and family. I think my parents keep me plenty grounded.
Otherwise, yeah, I’m not sure other than I try and make things pretty simple for myself, whether that’s competition related or personally.
I’ve said earlier tonight I’ve got pretty simple goals, and I’ve had great leadership throughout my life and great examples set for me throughout my life.
As far as my upbringing and my exposure to Roger and this race team and how to do things professionally, how to do things the right way, I don’t see a way to do anything differently.
Thank you for noticing. Thank you for the compliment, and I look to stay on that same course.
I was just curious, the former driver Brad Keselowski had the utmost respect for being a terrific speedway racer in the No. 2 Team Penske, and I know how hard you work at your craft. I was wondering what you’ve done over the past couple seasons to become a better superspeedway racer and how that was a help for you tonight, and have you talked to Ryan Blaney?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, I think speedway racing and running the high line are the two biggest things that I had to learn, being a NASCAR driver, coming from a completely foreign background. For me, those were two things I’ve worked at quite a lot.
And I think it’s a mental game on the speedways. But also it’s a very social game. And I wouldn’t say I’m the most social person. I didn’t spend much time in high school. I wouldn’t say I’ve got an abundance of close friends.
For me, it’s one of those things you have to predict everybody’s next move. And for me, I understand where I stand on the totem pole tonight, and to be able to do this, but also to be able to have the teammates, have the camaraderie from Ford and the team that’s trusted in me, like I said, I do put a lot into my racing. There’s not much else, like I said before, that I really care about anymore.
It’s certainly awesome to have that hard work pay off. It’s not just me. It’s my spotter, Doug. It’s Jeremy Bullins. It’s the entire Team Penske team. The way Ford has started off with this Next-Gen car with two wins in a row, pretty incredible.
And obviously to have great teamwork, as well. You mentioned Ryan Blaney. I said it before, and I’ll say it again, I think he’s a great leader for our team. I think he’s really come into his own as far as part of this organization. And I’m very proud to have him and him having my back, especially there on that restart.
I will say I think it was in his best interest to be able to help me. I thought the bottom was the dominant lane on restarts. It put him in a position to be second behind the leader and have a shot coming off of Turn 4.
That’s usually all you can ask for from a teammate, to let him give you a shot and take his own when he has it.
Otherwise, yeah, definitely a great experience.
What was that moment like with your parents, especially your mom?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, my mom has been like the backbone of my racing career, whether if it’s making brownies for the guys or packing a cooler to go to the Summer Shootout or driving me home from a long day, tucking me in in my fire suit when I’ve gotten wrecked for the third week in a row at Concord Speedway, all those things that moms do.
And she’s been around it. Her brother raced, like we mentioned before. She comes from a racing family. Her father raced. This isn’t the first time she’s seen this rodeo.
She’s been by my side, been a great listener, and definitely one of those people that helps keep me grounded. Very proud to have her. She’s definitely been my rock throughout my career.
Austin, I know you’re still in the moment, but what does it mean to be a Daytona 500 winner? Tony Stewart can’t say that, Kyle Busch can’t say that. There are a number of drivers you’re racing against that have come before you who cannot say what you can say right now.
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of layers to that. I feel like I have perspective on, but I’m certainly in a different category in that respect. I haven’t been trying to do this for decades. So from that respect, I’m pretty humbled to have the opportunity, the experience, what this means at this point in my career.
I think I still have a lot left to learn from the guys that you’ve mentioned. There’s a long list of drivers that have tried and finished second or led a lot of laps and come really close. Some days it’s your day. I’ll trade losing the Xfinity championship by four inches for a Daytona 500, I guess, any day.
Certainly hard to put myself in their shoes, but I have a lot of respect for a lot of the drivers in the field. There’s a good chance of me having to go to school for a little while here as far as figuring out what it takes to do this every weekend.
A lot of people coming and high-fiving you and giving you kudos in Victory Lane. What was that Victory Lane experience like for you? Also you took a call. Who was that from, and if you can talk about that.
AUSTIN CINDRIC: So the call I took was from my brother who lives in Norway, and he is one of my biggest fans. He and I weren’t super close growing up, but the moment he moved away to college, he and I got really close, whether it’s just talking to each other on a weekly basis. We share some common passions. Obviously grew up in the same racing household.
But otherwise, got to talk to him. He was staying up watching the whole thing. Norway is definitely the party country in Scandinavia, so I’m sure he and his buddies are going to have a good time.
I don’t know if they sell Keystone Light in Norway, but we might have to send him some. We’ll figure out how to make that work.
I got to talk to him. It was cool to get that experience of talking to him.
The experience of being in Victory Lane here in Daytona?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Well, the way I think about it, most of the times I’ve won races in this sport, it’s been with the Xfinity team, the 22 Xfinity team. That is with the exception of winning the truck race, every win I’ve had is with a lot of those same guys.
And this is kind of my first date with the 2 team, a team that’s been together a really long time under the leadership of Jeremy, and there’s a lot of guys that have been trying for a lot of years to win this race.
And I can’t think of a better way to start it off. I think the only guys that I recognized their smiles and their joy and their expectations in Victory Lane was my pit crew, because a lot of those guys, a lot of the guys on the 2 crew pitted my Xfinity car a lot, and we’ve actually come up together through the Truck Series.
And they were on it tonight. They had a money fourth stop and did a great job on pit road all day. So really proud of that effort.
But yeah, to experience that with a bunch of new people, it’s a great way to start a relationship. Hopefully it doesn’t set too lofty of expectations, but I think they’re learning about me and what I enjoy and what I put into this, and hopefully that’s a lot more to come for this group.
You already mentioned losing out by four inches on the Xfinity Series title. Tonight you win the race by three hundredths of a second. Just your thoughts on coming around and that kind of coming full circle tonight?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: When was that, in November? That race at Phoenix has haunted me every moment of every day for the last however many months, and it still will. I still lost, so it still sucks.
I think I’ve compared the two a little bit too much tonight because it’s definitely on a different stage and it’s definitely a race that means a lot. For me to be able to do that, to obviously have a close finish, to be able to put on an awesome finish for the race fans like we’ve said before, it was a packed house and there’s a lot of momentum with this sport, and in some ways to be somewhat of a leader of that is a unique experience for me, and I have a lot of perspective left to gain is what it means and what my influence is as far as a driver in this sport and someone who hopes to be here for a long time.
What did you tell yourself after the Xfinity Series title loss in November, and how did it motivate and set you up for tonight?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: All right, this is the last time I’m revisiting that race. (Laughter.) Ever, because I’ve never been in so much pain that I wanted to vomit. Never in my life have I been in so much pain, felt like I let so many people down that I’ve wanted to just throw up on the sport.
I remember I explicitly remember waking up at 4:00 a.m. the next morning and just staring, like having a panic attack. It’s how much it means to me. There’s no way to describe that.
Sometimes you have those moments in life that some people aren’t ever passionate about something like that other than their families in their life, so I’m grateful to have something that really pushes me that far emotionally, physically, that I’m willing to do whatever it takes.
Definitely, definitely a moment I’ll never forget in my life, and definitely confirmation that this job that I have, this living that I’ve had for myself means a lot to me.
Of course you had Briscoe congratulate you, but you also had the Thunderbirds celebrating, pretty much your biggest fans right now. You also had a moment with them a couple days ago. Describe that feeling, to have such amazing supporters and a bond already.
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, no better way to create a bond than going nine G’s together in an F-16 and then win the Daytona 500 a couple days later. Talk about badass. I can’t even begin to say how cool of an experience that was. As someone that’s grown up loving Star Wars their entire life, that’s probably the closest I’ll get to flying in an X-wing.
But definitely an amazing experience what those guys do, but also the people just in the Air Force in general and our armed forces, what they go through, what their bodies go through to keep us free and safe, it’s great perspective gained for sure and great perspective for me on the critical things for the human body like blood and oxygen. Like that’s important. Food and water go below blood and oxygen, and being able to figure out what it takes to have the right blood flow and get the oxygen in the right way while you’re pulling nine G’s so you don’t pass out while you’re seeing tunnel vision, and then having to do the Duels the next night or a couple hours later was definitely an experience but something I’ll never forget.
Obviously really cool. I didn’t expect to see them in Victory Lane. I told them if I won that they needed to be in Victory Lane, and they did just as they were told. Really cool to see them and share that moment.
Take me back to Phoenix in November — I’m just kidding.
Can we talk about today? I was talking to a lot of drivers in the infield care center and a lot of them were saying it’s kind of difficult to push with these cars. A lot of them were complaining about how aggressive it was. Were you on the receiving end of anything like that today, and what were your thoughts on it?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, I did a lot of pushing today. I was pretty happy with how well my car could push. I felt like that was probably my strength throughout the day. I learned a lot while doing it, as well. It does get pretty hectic back in the pack.
Pretty interested to see how Talladega is going to play out. I think it’s going to be a lot different race than Daytona just because of how wide that track is, how much less handling matters at Talladega, but I certainly learned a lot, certainly a lot to take away from, but I think a lot of that comes down to spotter and driver. It is hard to see in front of you, and Doug did a really good job tonight keeping me informed and we were able to adapt to what I needed, the information I needed, what was important for being able to be successful.
When people showed up at the track today or tuned in to the broadcast at 3:00 to watch the start of this race, it’s very likely they either had no idea who you were or knew very little about you —
AUSTIN CINDRIC: They didn’t know how to spell my name. It was spelled wrong on my garage when I showed up here. Not throwing any shade, but hopefully we can get that right next year. (Laughter).
How did they spell it?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: With an E instead of an I.
The first I or the second I?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: It happens a lot.
Anyway, but for at least the next 24 hours, 48 hours you’re going to be one of the most talked-about athletes in the country if not the world. What does that feel like, and what do you want those people to know about Austin Cindric, the 2022 Daytona 500 winner?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: That’s a really heavy way to put it. You’re probably not wrong, but at the same time I guess I don’t think that much of myself, or at least I’ve never had that perspective.
I think as far as what people need to know about me is I’ve said it already, I’ll say it again, my dedication to what I do is pretty much all that matters to me, whether if it’s the people I get to do it with or the life I get to live, I know how fortunate I am to get to do this, and I promise you, I don’t take it for granted. I’m surrounded by a lot of great people, and I want to do this for a long time.
I think on a podcast last year, did you say you’re not a drinker at all?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: I have a beer sponsor, and we showed a lot of Keystone Light in Victory Lane today.
I assume that’s going to be the beverage of choice tonight and the rest of the weekend?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: That is the beverage of choice for the No. 2. (Laughter.)
Blaney said that he would not make a move on you unless he was 100 percent certain a Penske car would win. How much do you think all the talks and what happened here last year played into how the finish of today happened?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: I think it played a role. I think it played a role, but at the same time I look at Ryan and he’s honestly been the glue to our speedway program if I look back, as far as having two polarizing figures that are both equally good at what they do in different ways. I think Ryan has kind of been the guy that’s honestly gotten the short end of the stick sometimes as far as being a great teammate.
We talked about it as a team on Monday before we left for Daytona, as far as what the rules were going to be there and how to manage that, and I think that stays behind closed doors, but I think to that point, Ryan had a shot to win the race off of Turn 4, and that was his chance to do it, and I knew that’s the opportunity that he wanted to have, and I think the best chance for him to do that is to be second in line.
He was in position to be able to do that, but otherwise great team effort and proud of that, and hopefully I can repay the favor.
I don’t know if surreal is the right word, but you have an autographed Brad Keselowski card or something in your place, and you replace him, and I think it could be very well argued you outdrove him today. Is that surreal to you? Can you kind of describe how that dynamic sits with you?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Well, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I didn’t think it was possible, but certainly I don’t feel like I’ve replaced Brad in any sense of the word. He’s meant a great deal to our race team, not just Brad but you talk about Brad, Ryan, Bubba, a lot of the guys that I was having to fend off there at the end of the race are guys that have been in the sport for a while and have paid their dues and put themselves in position every time at these types of races.
I obviously have to do my job and do what’s best for Austin and the 2 team, but I certainly have a lot of great perspective on what that means, what that hard work means, and being able to do it like in my second try certainly is exciting, but definitely not a stranger to knowing that I’ve got a lot of work, I have a lot of studying I have to do to put myself on that level every single week.
I think from a lot of your answers you may have covered this, but when it was coming down to those closing laps and you had the lead, did you have the feeling in your mind, just like any time you would be, if you were comfortable in the Xfinity Series on a road course or something, or did you have because of the dynamic at Daytona and you being a rookie and all of that, the don’t-mess-this-up, don’t-mess-this-up feeling?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: Not really. I mean, I’d say haha to whoever thought my first Cup win was going to be on a road course. But otherwise — I’ve won more ovals than road courses, guys. Come on, give me a break.
But otherwise, no, I mean, you definitely have to remove yourself from the moment. You think to yourself, all right, it’s the Daytona 500, but you have a chance to win, and what are you going to do with it and put yourself in that situation and look at the characters behind you and try and predict everyone’s next move. I think that’s all you can do and you have to live in the moment, stay in the game, and I think it’s that simple for me.
Nearly 3,000 guys have raced in the Cup Series and only 199 have now won in the Cup Series. What do you think you’re going to remember most about tonight?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: That’s a great question. The night isn’t over, but as far as the race itself, just the way things changed. I pride myself on being a versatile driver, an open-minded competitor, and that’s what you had to be tonight. I’m not going to tell you that I’m the most diverse, the most open-minded and the best guy in the field, but I do pride myself on that, and I do feel like that played a role and I think that mentality really paid off for us tonight, and I think we executed on a lot of points.
That’s what it’s going to take to be successful this season, as well, with a lot of changes and a lot of newness. We’re going to go to Fontana next week with 15 minutes of practice as far as I understand.
There’s a lot of differences. So I think for me to be able to maintain that mindset, it’s great to be able to see it pay off once. 37 times would be really good.
We were in here Wednesday and you were here with Harrison Burton and you guys were talking about how much of a friendly rivalry you guys have. How much are you going to brag to him over the next coming weeks after this 500 victory?
AUSTIN CINDRIC: I don’t see myself bragging — I brag about the Xfinity win that I had over him here, but not the 500. Obviously I’m happy he’s okay. I haven’t seen the replay, haven’t seen any of the race, but I guess he went for a bit of a tumble there. Tough deal. Definitely not the way you want to start out a season. Obviously our car count now is fairly low.
But otherwise, no, it’s great to have him on the team. I think he brings a great energy, and I think a great perspective that I probably don’t have as a younger driver that can definitely push our team forward with two other veterans.
THE MODERATOR: Austin, thanks for joining us tonight, and congratulations on the Daytona 500 win.
An Interview with: Roger Penske
THE MODERATOR: We’re going to get started with our Daytona 500 championship press conferences here. We are joined by our Daytona 500 winning team owner, Roger Penske. This is his third Daytona 500 win for Team Penske on his birthday, so happy birthday.
ROGER PENSKE: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Obviously the driver was Austin Cindric in the No. 2 Discount Tire Ford. We will go straight to questions for Roger.
The Fords had speed all week in the draft, particularly your Fords. That last restart with Austin and Ryan on the front row, what was your hope there, and what did you see play out there over the last two laps?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think it was really the strategy that was called by Jeremy, putting Austin up on top and then him coming down over ahead of Ryan. We had talked all for weeks after last year when we were one-two and ended up in the fence, I guess you’d have to say, and they played ball, and Austin won.
But the cars were good. I think for Ford, for us and the whole Ford group, worked really well together. We’ve worked hard as teams to try to develop a plan, and I think it paid off.
If you looked at Austin this week and the way he ran, he didn’t make a mistake today. He was up second, third, almost the entire race, and then at the end to be able to pull it off, which shows you the quality of kid he is and also the experience that he already has as a young man. We’re very excited about the win.
What is it about Austin that you liked? I know it can be tricky because he’s the other boss’s son, so what is it that you believed in him?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I go back when he was playing with his toys in his bedroom in Redding, so I’ve seen him grow up as a young man. He’s been focused, he’s been a student of the game, is a smart young man.
I think he works with the team well. He’s in the shop all the time. And he’s a team player, and he understands his position.
Probably one of the tougher meetings I had with him was when we decided not to put him into Cup, had him run another year in Xfinity and then he won the championship, and he took it like a man, and you could see that, as far as I was concerned. He said, You make the call. I’m going to make it happen. That’s exactly what he did.
He’s a mature man at his age, and there’s no question you could see his driving ability today.
Did you anticipate not missing a beat with a driver change in the 2?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, there’s lots of things to think about when you’ve got Blaney and you’ve got Joey, and Brad had made the decision that he wanted to take ownership and go over to Roush Fenway, which was great. You could see how well they did this weekend. Big shot in the arm for him.
We’ve got to build these people. You bring them in the funnel, and they’ve got to come up, and all of a sudden you get the results.
The team we have, the longevity. We have very little turnover on the team, and those guys come back. And that was a crew that worked for Brad last year, in many cases, and I think with him being able to take those tools, as a young man, made a huge difference.
I’m thrilled. I mean, it’s hard to believe, but I knew something could happen with the green-white-checkered. I said, We’ve got a chance here, because you never know. He didn’t make a mistake.
Have you ever won a race on your birthday?
ROGER PENSKE: I don’t know. I got a big cake, though, didn’t I?
Also, you’ve seen Austin grow up, I believe when Helio won the Indy 500 in 2001, one- or two-year-old Austin nearly knocked over the Borg-Warner Trophy the next day at the Yard of Bricks. Is he almost kind of part of the family to you because you’ve pretty much watched this kid grow up?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think both his son and his brother, Tim’s son and brother, really have done a great job. They’ve gone their own individual ways, but he’s been part of the family. He moved to North Carolina when we put the teams together. Tim was a big part of that, and he gets a lot of credit as really the team manager, certainly with Mike Nelson and Travis Geisler and all the crew chiefs.
I think what’s happened this year with the new car, our guys are working more together now than they ever had. It’s not three different teams, it’s one team, and they work together, the engineering people do. We made some changes there with Jonathan Hassler, and all those things have paid off.
Then at the end you need someone to execute, and certainly he did.
Also his grandfather was Jim Trueman, who you competed against as a team owner at the Indy 500. How special that is to the whole Trueman family?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, Jim was a great guy. And I remember when they won the 500 with Bobby Rahal. And he was very sick at that point, and I went over to tell him, and I said, Congratulations. And what did he say? Now I can put Jim Trueman 500 on his airplane. That’s the last time I talked to him, think about that.
So we go way back, and I’m sure he’s looking down today and thinking, wow, what a wonderful day and what a great thing for my grandson.
Blaney said that he wasn’t going to make a move unless he was 100 percent sure either him or Austin would win. Did you have any doubt after what happened last year and the talks that you said you had with the guys that that would be the way it would play out?
ROGER PENSKE: We talked about that a lot, as you would expect we did after the race last year. And I said, look, the best man wins at the end. I think we’ve got to work together.
I think it was not just us, it was the entire Ford camp. If you looked at it all day long, people stayed in line. I think they did the job.
And then at the end, I felt that with two cars up front and the speed we’d had all during the race, and obviously interesting we had six Fords up there and one Toyota, and Bubba certainly was hungry to win, too.
So we had to execute, and that’s what we did.
I know Austin won the Xfinity title, but a couple years before that it was kind of a rough start for him in NASCAR. Was there a time where you thought, maybe he just doesn’t have it for Cup?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, no, I think that he started really in these types of cars. He was a sports car racer, I guess, open wheel racer, and then to be able to transition into NASCAR and into stock cars, look, you’re going to have a bumpy ride, and you can have some luck, and on the other hand you’ve seen the quality of his road racing.
He comes into this series with a high road racing capability, and I think that — we don’t have people buy a ride at Penske, we have the drivers that we want to drive for us, and I think that he was someone that we could build on.
I knew him as a person, not just because it was his dad’s — Tim’s son. Quite honestly, if he didn’t get the job done, we might have changed it, but he came along I think as well as he could under the circumstances initially.
But I think he’s proven — this is going into the third year now. He’s the top of his game.
What is going through your mind when the field is coming through Turn 4 for the last time, and you have two of your cars and you have your former driver in Keselowski right there close together? What were the thoughts on your mind as that situation was playing out in the final turn?
ROGER PENSKE: I wish they’d move the finish line further towards Turn 4. That was the first thing I was thinking. And you really couldn’t tell. Just like all these things here, until the 23 — what was it, half a fender really. Another lap it might have been a different story.
I felt good about it because I knew the 2 would work together, and I knew Blaney was going to try to make it happen for Austin. If Austin slipped up, he would be there. But you never know.
I think it’s why people come here. That’s why we filled the house today. But it’s the type of racing we have, and you could see they played ball together for most of the race. There wasn’t many elbows out there, but at the end there’s no question guys wanted that victory.
What was your reaction to some of your teams’ wheels being confiscated by NASCAR this week, and how were you expecting that situation to play out?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think that anybody who was at the race today, you talk to most of the teams, they all had trouble with wheels, didn’t they. It wasn’t something that was unique.
And I think that we had contacted NASCAR a week before and said that the wheels we were getting were not all the same, and we felt we needed to modify the holes where the drive pins go.
We didn’t really get any feedback, and at that point we went ahead and opened the holes up.
In fact, when you look at it, they’re much bigger than they would have been — smaller, excuse me, than we had either on INDYCAR or on sports car.
I just think there was so much going on and trying to get the communication back and forth — we certainly talked about it with them. This wasn’t something we did under the covers trying to beat anybody. It was right there.
So they took all our wheels, and we ran today with wheels that we had up at the shop, came down, they were certainly like everybody else’s, I think.
You touched on this earlier, but Austin certainly didn’t come into NASCAR on a typical track of many drivers with his prior sports car experience. I just wondered how would you rate his quick adaption to the NASCAR style of racing?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think his record speaks for itself. He really had almost two Xfinity wins in the two years where he really got going full time, and then to come here and have this type of victory was amazing.
I think he’s a star coming up. I think he’s a great team player. And from a Discount Tire perspective and all of our sponsors, I think he’ll represent us as a team the way we need to be so we can continue to fund his car.
Look, that’s part of it. You follow me? You’ve got to be a driver, you’ve got to understand the car technically, you’ve got to be a team player, and you also have to work with your sponsors. And I think all of those buttons he touches very well.
Just walking around the grid today even before the race, it seemed like, talking to people, they seemed very excited about where NASCAR is going right now, just as a sport collectively, with the sellout, coming off the Clash, now you’ve got the top 4 finishers were all under 30 years old. To say NASCAR is on an upswing, do you think that’s an accurate assessment? How do you feel about the relevance of NASCAR right now in the motorsports world?
ROGER PENSKE: That’s a lot of questions. I think if you ask the question how I think NASCAR is right today and what we see, I think we’re on a great trajectory. All of the new fans that we had at the Coliseum and certainly selling this place out and sponsorships and suites, I think it’s terrific.
With the new crop of drivers, and we have some drivers that are retiring, I think it’s leaving an opening for these young kids. When you look at the 5 car, Larson and what he’s done come in, just bang, when he got into the car, I think you’re going to see a lot of that.
With the car being somewhat of a leveler, because everyone has got the same hammer, then it’s up to strategy, execution and the driver.
You are a great judge of talent. You must have known that this was going to happen probably this year. Did you think it would happen now, or did you figure by mid-season this kid is going to be winning?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, let me tell you this. We’re always positive. The glass is not half empty, it’s half full, and I think what happened today was an execution from the time we got our first piece for the New Gen car. I think Roush Yates did a terrific job on the engine power, as usual, and our team executed on pit road, and Austin did the rest.
That’s what happens. People win races that you don’t expect, but on the other hand, when you looked at the speed we had this week, I think one of our cars you could say should have been a favorite to be one of the guys in the winner’s circle, and it turns out to be Austin Cindric. That’s why I’m here.
Obviously your cars ran good all week, but what’s your general perspective on how this new car performed today versus the previous car?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I can tell you one thing; that the cost to put this car together is significantly less than if we had a regular car that we ran last year.
I think we could see that at the Clash, guys getting into each other with the fiberglass body. We had that on Xfinity cars for a number of years.
And I think that’s paying off. I think that the cars that we have today and the new rules are terrific, and we’ll see when we get back with Joey’s car what it’s going to take.
The 21 car that Harrison ran, we just pulled the front end off, bolted another one on. That’s all we had to do, and the car was back in the scanner 100 percent.
I think NASCAR has gone a long way. Lots of discussion, lots of angst, but I’d take my hat off to the engineering team at NASCAR, and then the teams working with them.
I think everyone in the garage area, the whole industry worked with NASCAR to try to bring this car to where it is. And we were fortunate to have a couple successes early on, but I can tell you one race or two races are not going to make the championship overnight.
Number one, I take my hat off to NASCAR and our guys being able to put it together. I think it was terrific.
Your rookie driver is qualified now for the playoffs. Your thoughts on that? You just mentioned one or two races don’t make a championship, but you will at least have one car in the playoffs this year.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, listen, if we can have a car in the playoffs after the first race, that’s a big deal. Having Austin as a rookie, and I’m sure he’ll have a lot more stage points and more wins if we get to these road courses where he’s got expertise — in fact, it’s interesting that Blaney and Joey have gone to Austin for some advice on road courses. We’re going to have a good team effort here all year.
But to be in the Chase or in the finals is amazing.
Travis Geisler told me earlier that Ryan Blaney is the best teammate that he’s ever seen when it comes to superspeedway racing. What do you see out of Blaney and the style of racing, and what do you think makes for a good teammate when it comes to this style of racing?
ROGER PENSKE: I think it’s the person. I think it’s the human being himself. I think we’ve taught a lot about racing. He was a racer when he came in, and we’ve given him good equipment. And he listens, and I think he knows his teammates can help him, and vice versa. And I think he has that as his MO.
I think Joey has taken the leadership on the team, being the senior guy, and Ryan, also, and I think they’re both trying to mentor Austin and Harrison. I think we’ve got a great combination of young guys and people that can be here for a long time, and I hope many times we can be here.
ROGER PENSKE: I always kid him, I say, You’ve got to be a little more excited.
Well, he was excited today, really. And Megan, Austin’s mother, to see them, big hug, and to see their son go across the finish line and win the Daytona 500, I guess you’d be pretty excited. And I know Tim and Megan were, so it was great to see that.
ROGER PENSKE: He even got out of his cool, calm way today. I think he said, I’m going to really celebrate; my boy won the Daytona 500.