SPEEDWAY, Ind. — When Austin Cindric won the Daytona 500 back in February, you wouldn’t have known he was a NASCAR Cup Series rookie. But in the following weeks, Cindric started to hit a “rookie wall.” Over the course of the next 14 races, Cindric recorded just one top-10 finish. His points position started to fall.
But ever since Sonoma, Cindric flipped a switch and placed together a solid stretch of results. After a crash at Pocono left him six laps off the pace, Cindric responded with a second-place finish at Indianapolis, his best finish since the Daytona 500.
“I hope the race fans enjoyed that,” Cindric said after the race. “It’s probably not the day I wanted with the Discount Tire Ford Mustang, but to come away with a good finish we’ll take it.”
Cindric started Sunday’s race right where he finished it — in second place. Rather than stay out to score stage points, Cindric and his No. 2 team planned a three-stop strategy by short-pitting the first two stages and making one more stop down the stretch. He finished Stages 1 and 2 in 17th and 18th, respectively.
On Lap 56, Cindric headed to pit road for his final stop of the day. A wreck involving Kyle Larson and Ty Dillon just five laps later brought the field back together for a restart with just 18 laps to go. Cindric restarted 10th and dropped two spots over the next 12 laps until a blown tire on the Christopher Bell machine brought out a caution with six laps to go.
Chaos ensued on the restart as several cars spun before NASCAR threw a caution for a car stuck in a gravel pit. The race restarted in overtime, and again, more cars spun. Cindric stayed out of trouble both times and finished the race only behind Tyler Reddick.
“Those green-white-checkereds, it’s just caution out the window and everyone has fenders and bumpers to use,” Cindric said. “A lot to take in, a lot to handle. I’m glad we survived it all.”
When asked about preparing for the final restarts, Cindric joked, “Maybe playing a little football. That’s about it.”
Although Cindric is satisfied with second, he’d rather kiss to bricks to celebrate his second Cup victory. But instead, he’ll build off a strong points day as he looks to secure a playoff position.
Despite the Daytona 500 victory, Cindric isn’t locked into the playoffs. Drivers with just one win risk missing the playoffs if there are more than 17 winners. There are currently 14 winners and Cindric is above both Chase Briscoe and Kurt Busch, other one-time winners, in points. Busch has missed the last two races with concussion-like symptoms sustained in a qualifying crash at Pocono last weekend.
To officially clinch a spot in the playoffs, Cindric has to win a second time. He wished that was the case on Sunday.
“This isn’t Indy Car. They don’t give out trophies for second,” Cindric said.
The NASCAR Cup Series returns next weekend at Michigan International Speedway for the FireKeepers 400. The race is scheduled for Sunday, August 7 at 3 p.m. ET on USA Network.