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With all the success in NASCAR Cindric has enjoyed already at age 23 – including his stunning win in Sunday’s Daytona 500 as a rookie in the Cup Series – it may seem a NASCAR career was long destined for the son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric.
But that was hardly the case.
Sure, Austin had plenty of racing lineage in his family.
His grandfather on his mother’s side was the late sports car and CART team owner Jim Trueman, who won the 1986 Indianapolis 500 with driver Bobby Rahal. His father, Tim, joined Team Penske following the 1999 season and Austin spent numerous months of May while growing up at Indy while Penske built its open-wheel success.
Not the usual path of a NASCAR star
Yet when Austin began his own driving career, it was open-wheel racing and sports cars to which he initially turned, and immediately found success.
After attending the Skip Barber Racing School to gain road racing experience, in 2013 and 2014 he raced in the U.S. F2000 Championship – part of the Road to Indy program.
In 2014 he switched teams to Pabst Racing Services, finishing 14th in points with a second-place podium finish on the oval at Lucas Oil Raceway. He also competed in Historic Sportscar Racing, winning a race in a Porsche 944.
All of that was before Cindric was 16 years old.
At 17, Cindric drove in the Bathurst 12 Hour, the youngest driver to ever compete in the event. He began competing fulltime in the Continental Tire Sports Car Series in 2015 and won at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, becoming the series’ youngest winner (at 17). In 2016, he drove the No. 6 McLaren for K-PAX Racing in the Pirelli World Challenge.
While focusing on sports cars, Cindric had also tested the NASCAR waters, running a handful of races in the ARCA Menards Series, winning once; won both starts he made in the K&N Pro Series East (now ARCA East); and made a handful of starts in the NASCAR Truck Series.
Prior to the start of the 2017 season, Cindric suddenly found himself with unexpected choice.
Austin Cindric, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Discount Tire
Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images
“I had the opportunity that I’ve probably had been working for, for the last three or four years, which was to be a manufacturer-backed sports car driver, and I had a great opportunity lined up for me that I had worked hard for,” Cindric said.
“At the same time I had done a few ARCA races, a few Truck races that went fairly well, and I had the opportunity to go full-time Truck racing. Think about the world being your oyster as a young driver, you actually have the opportunity to choose that.”
Cindric chose NASCAR, competing fulltime with Cup Series star Brad Keselowski’s Truck Series team.
“I think when it comes to this sport, I think obviously this is the biggest stage in American motorsports, but I don’t think you get a second chance to make a NASCAR career work,” Cindric said. “There are very few people that have been able to do that.
“And for me, that was an opportunity to take advantage of that. And obviously it’s gotten me this far. And I’ve been able to still keep ties to that side of racing (sports cars), and I still have a lot of passion for that side of racing.
“It was certainly a defining moment kind of in the path of my career.”
It has paid off handsomely.
Since 2018, when Cindric moved fulltime to the Xfinity Series with Team Penske, he’s won 13 races and the 2020 series championship. Last season, he had a chance to win a second consecutive title at Phoenix but came up just short to eventual champion and race winner, Daniel Hemric.
Cindric drove a handful of Cup races last season for Penske and immediately showed he could compete in NASCAR’s premier series.
And kicking off his first fulltime season in the Cup Series with Penske, Cindric has now already won the sport’s biggest race.
“There’s a long list of drivers that have tried and finished second or led a lot of laps and come really close. Some days it’s your day,” he said. “I’ll trade losing the Xfinity championship by four inches for a Daytona 500, I guess, any day
“If there’s anything I have left to prove, I’m not sure what it is. But otherwise, I’m very proud of the family that I’ve come from, the person that my dad is and the way he leads our team. I’m very proud to be exposed to that, my parents and Roger Penske.”
At just 23 years old and a Daytona 500 trophy in hand, Cindric has already captured the glory that has eluded many of NASCAR’s biggest stars.
It may be difficult to grasp his career is just getting underway as Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway in California will only be his ninth Cup start.
Regardless of what comes next, it is clear, however, Cindric’s career choice was the right one.