Even though Austin Cindric was one win away from qualifying for NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship Four last year, his rookie campaign was far from stable.
The Mooresville, NC driver split time between Team Penske and Roush-Fenway Racing, and by his seventh race, he had already worked with three different crews and crew chiefs all while trying to find his way as a 19-year-old. The results certainly portrayed this boggling welcome to NASCAR’s second-tier series: four top 10s and 13th in the standings through 10 races.
One full year and one ensuring contract later, Cindric has transformed from an unsure rookie bouncing from one team to the other to a Championship Four contender in the No. 22 Team Penske entry.
Cindric’s sixth-place finish Saturday in the Allied Steel Buildings 200 at Dover International Speedway marked his eighth top 10 of the 2019 season. He also has four top fives to show for and sits fourth in the standings through 10 races, 81 points behind leader Tyler Reddick.
“I think those solid runs are just a product of one having the continuity of the same group of people around you, to coming back to places for the second or third time, or me understanding these cars more and what I need for the race,” Cindric told TRE. “And how to race, how to work through traffic, how to avoid issues and stay out of trouble. I think that’s been a product of some maturity throughout this year. It’s been nice to execute weekends for sure.”
Cindric hung around fifth and sixth practically all day Saturday, finding “decent” short run speed, but fighting some looseness on the long run.
All in all, it’s Cindric’s fourth straight finish of sixth or better.
“To run quietly inside top five, top six all race is a solid day, I guess,” Cindric said. “From the speed we’ve shown I think we want more for race trim stuff for sure.”
Whether the speed is there to breakthrough and win for the first or not, Cindric needs to lead more laps. Though he’s fourth in points, he’s led just 23 laps through 10 races. Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, and Cole Custer, meanwhile, have combined to lead 1,079 laps.
“Honestly, I feel like our short track program is pretty strong, or anywhere where we don’t have to rely on downforce a whole lot,” Cindric said. “Between here and some of the intermediates, we struggle with some of the same issues. We’re struggling with overall grip or being too compromised at some point in the run. So, we’ll work on that and try and be able to better back in the fall.”