DOVER, Del. — Nine points behind the cutoff line heading into an elimination race is far from ideal, but Austin Cindric is gleaming at his prospects for that very scenario ahead of Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Bar Harbor 200 presented by Sea Watch International at Dover International Speedway. Statistically and comfortability, the Monster Mile is Cindric’s best track.
The 20-year-old Penske Racing driver finished ninth in his lone XFINITY Series start at the track this spring and fifth in the Truck Series race last year.
“I love coming to Dover. It’s one of my favorite race track,” Cindric told The Racing Experts. “It’s a cutoff round. We need to gain nine points. I think it’s a good combo for a good day tomorrow.”
When asked why he thinks Dover fits his driving style, Cindric said, “I always love coming here because it’s a track that has high grip, that you’re going really fast and you still have to drive the race car. You’re still having to pedal the car. My input as a driver matters here, more so at other places where you’re carrying the same speeds that you are. I really enjoy that. I enjoy that kind of adrenaline rush. It’s a lot of fun.”
Cindric was ninth-quickest in first practice with a 23.510 (0.241 off Justin Allgaier) and fifth-fastest in final practice at 23.525 (0.064 off Allgaier). He also had the second-fastest best 10 consecutive lap average in session one at 151.466 miles per hour.
“We were really good in first half of final practice,” Cindric said. “It’s extremely tight. When you see that, you have to feel your race car. I think we made a lot of gains today. I think we’re going to be a car to beat tomorrow.”
Cindric kept his car tight all day Friday because the racing surface “changes as the track gains rubber.” Friday’s temperatures also stayed in the mid-60s whereas Saturday is forecasted for mid-70 temperatures.
“The conditions [were] pretty favorable,” Cindric said. “It’s probably going to free up tomorrow. You want to be on the tighter side today. We have a pretty comfortable car to drive at the moment.”
Cindric’s driver rating at Dover is 105.4, according to DriverAverages.com, his fourth-best track on record and third-best Monster Mile rating amongst the 12 playoff drivers. Only Allgaier and Elliott Sadler, who finished first and second in the sprint, have higher ratings at Dover over the past three years than Cindric (119.1 and 106.3).
Cindric currently sits nine points Ross Chastain for eighth, 11 points behind Allgaier and Sadler, 13 points back of Matt Tifft and 14 off Cole Custer for fourth. Fortunately for Cindric, Chastain isn’t in Chip Ganassi’s No. 42 this weekend and instead back in JD Motorsports’ No. 4, an underfunded team compared to the Penske’s of the world. Chastain’s Dover rating also ranks 11th of the 12 playoff drivers. Tifft and Custer haven’t performed well at Dover in the past, but were relatively fast in practice (Tiff 10th-fastest in first practice; Custer second-fastest in final practice).
As far as drivers behind Cindric, Ryan Truex (24 points back), Ryan Reed (25 points back) and Brandon Jones (28 points back) are practically in must-win scenarios unlike Cindric.
“I feel good about it,” Cindric said. “I just have to be solid and be able to advance into the next round and be able to get the points I need. On the same token, the team has a good notebook and I don’t think I’ve had a bad race since I’ve been here. I feel good about my time here.”
Adding to Cindric’s fondness of the Monster MileDover, the No. 22 team has enjoyed success at Dover. Ryan Blaney dominated and won the fall XFINITY race last year. Blaney also finished second in the 2017 spring race. Cindric said his setup and package is “similar” to Blaney’s winning machine last fall.
However, speed means nothing if you mismanage it, especially at Dover. Cindric wants to bag win No. 1 on Saturday, but he’ll gladly take a top five or top 10 and advance. Oh, and expect typical elimination race drama, too.
“If I have a chance to win the race, I’ll go for it,” Cindric said. “At the same token, I’m going to do what I can to advance onto the next round. That’s my priority.”
“It’ll be a crazy race, we all know that,” Cindric added. “With the playoffs the way they are, as much as you’ve seen the intensity ramp up in all three series with the playoffs, I expect a lot of restarts at the end of the race and a lot of crazy stuff happening.”