MOORESVILLE, N.C. — With silly season in full swing, Austin Cindric’s name has been tossed around the rumor mill as a potential candidate for a NASCAR Cup Series ride next season.
Most notably, Cindric has been rumored as a potential replacement for Matt DiBenedetto in the famed Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford Mustang.
It’s a reasonable landing spot considering the team’s technical alliance with Team Penske — the organization Cindric currently drives for in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
While some might think such discussion would be a distraction for the regular-season Xfinity Series champion, Cindric called it “a positive” that people consider him ready for a jump to the Cup Series.
“I think it’s a great thing to even be in that kind of conversation at this point in my career,” Cindric told SPEED SPORT during Xfinity Series Playoff Media Day. “You’ve got to remember that I’ve only been racing stock cars for a short amount of time, so to reach that level would be a huge accomplishment for me in itself. Overall though, I wouldn’t say it’s a distraction right now. I’ve come to peace with what my situation is and where things may or may not line up for me. I feel like I have an understanding it’s more of a waiting process as far as the right opportunities.
“A lot of people in the industry have a lot of question marks about where they need to be by the end of the year, so I feel like that’s why you see a lot of these silly season things happen really late in the game,” Cindric continued. “For me, my biggest focus for the next seven weeks is trying to get the (Xfinity Series) championship.”
Cindric has put together a breakout season, winning five of the first 26 races and locking up the regular-season title with a race to spare. He enters the postseason tied with Chase Briscoe for the top seed among the 12 championship contenders.
It’s a year that Cindric said he “needed to have,” considering that most of his career as he’s moved up the racing ladder has been built on a “sink or swim” mentality of survival.
“A lot has changed in a short amount of time for me, but it’s really been the lore of my career, if you will,” Cindric noted. “I’ve always either had to drown or swim, because I’d get thrown into situations where if I didn’t make it out, I was probably going to have to go do something else. But past that, trying to rise to the occasion and learn from whatever bad position I put myself in or bad position I get put in by anyone else, has been the main goal. That’s been big for me.
“I feel like personally, mentally and physically, whatever it has taken to rise to the occasion, I feel like I’ve been able to do in my career. I feel like this (title fight) is another stepping-stone for that,” he added. “It’s a great opportunity that I have and that my team has to go contend for a championship, especially with the points bank that we’ve got right now, so we’ll go and try to take advantage of it.”
While Cindric doesn’t necessarily have to win to advance out of the first round, considering he has 50 playoff points to lean on, he was quick to note that a “golden ticket” to the Round of 8 via a race win is always what teams are looking for during the playoffs.
“We sat down as a team and wrote down our top three goals — me, my crew chief, my engineer, my car chief, and our team manager — and created individual goals one to three. My first goal was to win the regular season championship, for one reason only, and that’s because it pays the most playoff points,” Cindric recalled. “It’s 15 (points) and that’s the equivalent of three wins, and from there it was making it to Phoenix … and below that was kind of a fun goal to try and get 30 top 10s.
“We’ve already run out of races to do that (reach 30 top-10 finishes), but I thought it would be a really cool stat if we could accomplish it,” Cindric continued. “From there it’s all about making it to Phoenix and having a shot to win the championship. When we get there, if we’re one of the four drivers racing for it, you’ve got to have your best day at that place. You’ve got to bring your A-game for that last race.
“For us, we’re in more of a position to have solid races instead of needing home runs … but winning makes things a lot easier, that’s for sure.”
The NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs commence Saturday at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway.