BRISTOL, Tenn. – Austin Cindric had a victory at Bristol Motor Speedway in his sight during Friday night’s Food City 300, and then the power steering in his car began to fail.
Like flipping a light switch, Cindric went from potential NASCAR Xfinity Series gladiator to helpless passenger in an instant, unable to fend off the attacks from behind as he wrestled his No. 22 Ford Mustang around the .533-mile concrete high banks.
Cindric ultimately lost the lead to title rival Chase Briscoe with six laps remaining, then faded to third behind Ross Chastain as he rode a roller coaster of emotions to the finish line.
“We had a lot of ups-and-downs in that one. I think we were obviously a solid car, in the top three all night,” Cindric noted after the race. “We had a miscue on pit road there in stage three that really set us back, almost outside of the top 10. We drove our way back up into the top three under green, which I was really impressed that our car was able to do that, so that gave me the confidence we were able to go contend for the win. We got the front-row restart there and got the jump on Ross, and I think the first 30 laps of that run were pretty strong for us.
“Then, as everyone saw, about 10 or 12 laps into that run I started losing power-steering while we were in the lead. That was fun,” Cindric noted with a wry chuckle. “Let me tell you, I have never felt so helpless in my entire life. I’ve never been in so much pain while driving a race car, and I’ve never probably felt so defeated after a race. I’ve never lost a race this way. After a while your hands get numb, your arms get numb, your back gets numb and you’re still in the lead driving away, but there are 20 laps left.
“What a track for that to happen at.”
Asked to describe what he was feeling behind the wheel once the power steering went away, Cindric laughed before recalling his experience from behind the wheel.
“I wasn’t 100 percent certain what was going on; at first, I thought I was just getting tight, he explained. “At Bristol you’ve got really high loads and no rest, so you have very short amount of times to really digest what’s going on. After a couple laps of that, I started to think, ‘Man, am I falling out of the seat? What’s going on here?’ And then, sure enough … the way the systems work, you can get them sometimes with a very quick correction of the wheel when the pump can’t keep up with your hand movements, and that’s when I first realized it was the power-steering, not just me or the balance of the race car.
“From there I had to start positioning my hands differently on the wheel. Instead of being (normal), you go from grabbing a little further down, and at that point it gets really difficult to track the wheel, especially when the racetrack is so finite as far as the grip on the bottom, he added. “It seemed like it really went off a cliff there with about 10 laps to go; it got extremely difficult. Like I said, my body went really numb for a while, and (I) still had the lead and was trying to stay in it.
“I hung on the best I could. I’ve never felt so helpless before in my life. You always love to be in control of situations and that was the one we just couldn’t keep from happening.”
Despite the final outcome Friday night and missing out on his sixth victory of the year, Cindric still had plenty to hold his head high about, considering he locked up the regular-season with a race to spare and enters the playoffs next weekend tied for the No. 1 seed.
“I’m not feeling sorry for myself,” Cindric noted. “We’ve done a lot of hard work this year and to come into this race clinching the regular season, there’s a lot of positives there. We’ve positioned ourselves well for the playoffs and hope to take advantage of it. I’m pretty hungry after tonight, needless to say, and I’m proud of our Discount Tire Ford Mustang team.
“We were obviously really fast and made the right adjustments, just (winning was) not in the cards.”