By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Austin Cindric started the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 weekend on an absolute low note, but will exit Texas Motor Speedway with a persevering third-place result Saturday.
However, not only his finish took place after some hurdles that caused title ramifications, he trails Daniel Hemric by 61 points for the fourth and final spot to compete in the Championship 4. Therefore, Cindric is in a must win situation heading into ISM Raceway in Phoenix Nov. 10.
Despite the deficit that bestow the 20-year-old, he’s just happy of just finishing the chaotic 200-lapper that was slowed down 13 times for 54 laps.
“After everything that happened today this
is great,” said Cindric. “I would have just been happy to finish the thing not in the fence. Every opportunity to be in the middle of something it seemed we were there. It is just perseverance by everyone.”
The weekend didn’t start well after his No. 22 Discount Tire Ford Mustang got sideways at the entry of Turn 4, sending him into the outside wall. It sustained heavy right side damage and was forced to pull out the backup car.
Once the green flag dropped, it didn’t got any better as pole sitter Christopher Bell spun in Turn 1, starting a three-car spin that also involved Spencer Gallagher and John Hunter Nemechek. Cindric, who was at the back of the field made contact to avoid the spinning cars, sustaining fender damage on his right rear.
After making quick repairs, Cindric progressed his way towards the mayhem throughout the day and ended up 11th and 14th in the first two stages.
Cindric was thankful for his No. 22 team to repair the fender that almost could’ve led to an even worse disaster.
“The guys over the wall did an amazing job getting the right front fender fixed,” said Cindric. “We almost had a tire go down because of it.”
Then on Lap 133, championship implications took a huge pendulum swing.
At the entrance of Turn 3, Cindric showed faster pace into the corner as he went low to pass Bell, but it backfired after Cindric’s right side tapped Bell, causing the six-time winner into the wall, demoralizing the rookie phenom’s title aspirations.
“I was the car stuck on the bottom with one guy all over my tail and one guy all over my door,” Cindric describing the incident with Bell,” I moved up two inches and those were the two inches that the 20 was off my door.
“I think it is just a racing incident. I don’t think it was anything intentional. We were just racing hard. I knew he was going to be stuck on the top and I wanted to be on the bottom. I don’t see anything further than that.
“That is his decision to race hard. He was in a points position and I was in a must win position. I don’t’ think there was anything to be done different there. I am just glad we didn’t get caught up in it.”
Once again, the No. 22 team had to make repairs, but charged on while Bell had to call it a day, finishing 32nd.
Already nursing a damaged car, the contact with Bell didn’t do Cindric wonders.
“That damage got worse and then our contact with the 20 later made that worse,” Cindric said. “We were basically damaged the whole day.”
As spins and crashes continued, Cindric made it through unscathed and remained well inside the top-10 and ultimately crossed the line in third for his fifth top-five finish of a otherwise enduring rookie campaign.
After equaling his best finish since the Charlotte Roval, Cindric is simply “thankful” to be in the championship hunt.
“I am really thankful to still be in the playoffs and still have a shot to win a race,” said Cindric. “We were a few bumps and bangs away from really benefiting from that one.”
Although Cindric would’ve hoped that something happened to both Cole Custer, who was victorious at Texas to advance into the Championship 4, and Tyler Reddick taking themselves out of contention on the white flag, he gave additional credit to his No. 22 team.
“I was yelling all the way down the backstretch for something to happen,” Cindric on the finish. “I am thankful to everyone at Team Penske for really pushing hard this weekend. Obviously it is no doubt that these guys are the best in the business.”
Saturday showcased the perseverance that could make or break title hopes, and heading into Phoenix, both Cindric and the No. 22 team will look to get themselves in both Drivers and Owners Championship 4.
The Roger Penske owned entry currently sits fifth in Owners, trailing the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing entry, driven by Hemric, by seven points. For now, it’s nothing but anticipation for Cindric after an all around hard fought weekend.
“To be able to unload a backup car and have a top-three finish is unheard of,” Cindric said. “I am pumped. I am ready to go to Phoenix and go put on a show and have a little fun.”