By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
For this week’s edition of Climbing the Ladder, Seth Eggert sat down with Brad Keselowski Racing driver Austin Cindric. Cindric is an 18-year-old NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver. He drives the No. 19 Draw-Tite/Reese Brands, LTi Printing, and Fitzgerald Glider Kits Ford F-150.
Cindric is campaigning for the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship as well as Rookie of the Year honors. He currently sits 10th in points, 218 points behind points leader Christopher Bell.
Seth Eggert: What made you enter the industry that your father, and Team Penske President, Tim Cindric, works in?
Austin Cindric: I’ve been around racing really all my life. So, it was a pretty natural progression for me with both sides of my family being involve in the sport. Obviously, it’s taken me this far and I’m pretty passionate about it.
SE: Where and when was your first race? What was the result?
AC: It was in 2008 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on their fifth-mile in the Bandoleros. I want to say I finished second, at least I think it was second. Kaz Grala was my teammate back then.
SE: Who would you consider your mentor?
AC: I would definitely say that it would have to be my Dad just because he is someone that knows what it takes for a driver to be at the top level. That’s part of his job, just understanding and knowing what a top level driver needs to be.
SE: What inspires you to compete?
AC: I think I come from a pretty competitive family. When it comes to the competition and being involved in it obviously you don’t show up to finish second. You show up to win the thing. I feel like I’m pretty competitive in that respect.
SE: Is there a specific track that you would like to win at in the Truck Series?
AC: The next one.
SE: You have competed in NASCAR, ARCA, various Sports Cars, and Rallycross competition. What is the one race have you competed in that has meant more to you than others?
AC: I don’t think so. I mean, they have all been great opportunities to become a very well-rounded driver that understands what it takes to drive several different types of disciplines and vehicles. I think it’s all relative, being able to get the most out of any given weekend and to be able to achieve a win, run competitively wherever I get to go.
SE: Which series and track combination has been your favorite?
AC: I wouldn’t say so. I’ve got races that I remember enjoying, but for me, it’s like comparing apples to oranges. What makes each racetrack fun is different, and what makes each racecar fun is different. For me it’s all about having the opportunity to driving in them and continuing that opportunity as long as I can.
SE: Is there one specific form of motorsports that you have yet to compete in that you want to?
AC: Before this year, I had never done any dirt oval racing. That’s really about it. I did Eldora this year, so I’ve got my first dirt oval race. I feel like when it comes to circuit racing, that’s about as much as you can get done. You can do short course, off-road stuff, but Rallycross, I’d say is fairly close to that. I feel like I’ve been able to be fortunate enough to compete and be successful in every form of motorsports, at least in circuit racing.
SE: Is there anything that you can take from these different disciplines of racing and apply to NASCAR?
AC: It’s just the ability to adapt. I’ve been thrown into a number of different situations in my short time of driving stockcars in NASCAR. I’ve had to adapt on the fly and figure things out, going to new racetracks, driving new cars, new setups, giving feedback on those setups, and being thrown into a race situation you have never been in before. It’s just having the mindsets and being comfortable with adapting to situations and not being too timid to try something new.
SE: You earned a Bronze Medal in Global Rallycross Lites at the X-Games. What does that mean to you?
AC: That was a really cool deal. That was the last time that they ran the Lites Series at X-Games, and to be able to do that in my first ever race in Rallycross was a cool thing.
My brother and I were way into the skateboarder guys like Tony Hawk when we were growing up. Well, he was, I was just the little brother that did whatever he did. So, we were way into that, and it was cool to share that experience with him. He was there as well with me being able to get a Medal at X-Games was pretty cool.
Not too many guys involved racing get to say that they have Medaled in X-Games, I’m proud of it. Maybe there is an opportunity to do it again someday, but as of right now, it looks like that was a small window of opportunity that I was able to be a part of.
SE: You have won in both ARCA and the K&N Pro Series. What do those wins mean to you?
AC: Having a win in stock cars and being able to be that dominant on road courses in K&N was really cool to be a part of. Definitely a credit to Eric McClure, Hal Martin, and their organization, having me on board for those two races.
Being able to get my first stock car win on an oval last year at Kentucky was big. Especially since we were so close. There has only been one ARCA race that I have been in that I haven’t led. Having that stat in itself has been pretty cool. I have been fortunate enough to be in a top car at Cunningham Motorsports.
I’m excited to see that translate over to the Truck Series. The competition level is very high in the Truck Series. We have gotten to the point where, really the last three or four races, where we have been competing for wins on a pretty consistent basis. I’m proud of where that is progressing as well.
SE: You are known for your background in road racing, are you looking forward to the race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park heading into the Playoffs?
AC: It’s a big one because I feel like it is a fairly good shot at being able to get into the Playoffs with a win, but we are going to have to have a perfect race. Anyone who wins the race is going to have to win the race. I know that I am capable of that, the team is capable of that.
Our road course equipment is really strong, so I’m excited, it’s one of my favorite racetracks in North America. I have been able to have some success there in the past. It’s an opportunity for us to run well in a situation where the roles are kind of reversed in regards to my experience level compared to my competition experience and comfort level. I’m excited to see what that weekend holds.
SE: You made your NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Road America. Explain the feeling of making your debut on a road course.
AC: I think it’s the right situation and the right opportunity. Being able to do my first Xfinity race on a road course, somewhere that I’ve done quite a few races and I’m comfortable at.
Being able to drive a race for Roger Penske is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my career, and honestly it is one of the biggest opportunities in my career. I think the 22 guys have been really strong on road courses, and Sam (Hornish, Jr.) proved that at Mid-Ohio a few weeks ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if we are contending, battling up front. Hopefully we can continue to strengthen our lead in the Owners Championship which is a really important deal to those guys. I just want to make sure I have a solid day and contribute to that, and be able to say that I was a part of it at the end.
SE: Is it intimidating for you to be driving for Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion?
AC: No, it’s only an opportunity to me. Chase and I are very lucky just to have a great opportunity to run in the Truck Series for a team like BKR or to have an owner like Brad who is just a phone call or text away when it comes to advice, information, or anything we really need. He’s definitely a great ally to have on our side and definitely a cool experience.
SE: Do you feel any added pressure driving for Keselowski or Team Penske?
AC: I wouldn’t say so. I’ve gotten to know the guys at Penske for quite a while. I’ve been fortunate enough to able to help them out in some tests and practicing some cars when the Cup drivers weren’t around to do it. I have some form of comfort level, but honestly, I’m saying that before I’ve gone to the race this weekend.
In regards to Truck Series racing, I feel like that is where I am more comfortable at. I think the team is helping me make the transition pretty easy and I feel pretty comfortable in the situation I’m in.
SE: Your teammate this season Chase Briscoe is also a rookie. Do you feel like this helps or hurts you going into each race weekend?
AC: I think it’s a double-edged sword. I think if we had a Matt Crafton or a Johnny Sauter, somebody that we could lean on that would have direct information to the races that we are going to. Then again, I feel like that Chase and I have been really good at feeding off of each other whether it’s in a competitive fashion or a helpful fashion working as teammates, trying to help the other one up. Then learning from each other’s mistakes, seeing one guy do one thing, you make sure you don’t do the same. I feel like it’s been a pretty healthy relationship, and it’s only been stronger as the weeks go on, being able to spend more time with each other.
SE: You graduated from the Canon School earlier this year. Was it difficult to balance your school work and racing?
AC: Yeah, I mean, it wasn’t the easiest. It definitely got easier my senior year, there was nothing too complex. I was fortunate to have a school like Canon that will work with me, work with my schedule. They let me leave on all of the days that I needed to miss as long as I kept up me schoolwork and turned it in on time. That was a done deal. It was a very good experience for me to be able to do that. It’s allowed me to put me career where it is at the age I am, and it’s a lot of credit for the school I was at.
SE: With the announcement that Brad Keselowski Racing is shutting down, what does the future hold for you, where will you be one year from now?
AC: I have no idea. That’s what I’ve been working on for the last few weeks. I think it’s another reason that shows that racing is an extremely uncertain sport. You never have job security, that’s for certain.
I haven’t stopped working towards 2018 since the year started, that’s for sure. I’ve been building relationships with people, not just in stockcar racing, but all forms of motorsports, and that’s where I’ve been fortunate enough not only to drive the vehicles, but making a lot of relationships and being able to keep in touch. I’m still working towards whatever I can find for next year, getting in as many racecars as I can get in. Obviously I want to be in equipment that can challenge for race wins.
It’s unfortunate that BKR is not going to be able to be around next year. I know that it’s a really solid group of guys. But, since I know that it is a solid group of guys, I’m not too worried about them trying to find a new home just because I feel like Brad has put a lot of good people in place to make opportunities for guys like me and Chase.
SE: What would it mean to you if you earned the final win in the Truck Series for BKR?
AC: I don’t think it’s a question of if, but a question of when this season to be honest. I feel like we have been very, very strong. We are capable, have capable people, capable equipment, and I feel like we have capable drivers. I feel like Canada is a great opportunity for us to do that, and it would be good timing because we need to make it into the Playoffs. I feel like it would be very huge, probably a big sigh of relief for the team because they need it and deserve it. It helps our season out as well and to be able to do that in the next two races would be a big weight lifted, that’s for certain.
SE: What would a win mean for you in the Throwback Trucks BKR is bringing to Canada?
AC: I think that would be a pretty solid combination of everything that has happened the last few weeks. Between Brad shutting down the Truck team, but also Brad’s family history in the Truck Series. That’s where his family has been completely invested in NASCAR. To be able to end that chapter and to have a throwback truck to what’s really made it possible, and Brad, this organization couldn’t be possible without Brad either. To be able to have that and to honor the Keselowski family history, that would be a pretty neat deal.