By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – With a little help from Ryan Preece, Austin Cindric will officially make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Following a pit road speeding penalty, Cindric’s bid of bringing his No. 33 Verizon 5G Ford Mustang appeared to be over. Add insult to injury, he even lost a lap which ultimately left just Preece and Ty Dillon as the lone open entries on the lead lap.
“I get the bonehead of the race award,” said Cindric. “Speeding in the last section of pit road when I nailed everything else the whole night that I didn’t know how to do, so my guys can all have a shot punching me wherever they want to.”
However, things got spicy on the last lap where Dillon, who had to be the top open entry in Thursday’s Bluegreen Duel Race No. 1 to make the 500, faced the pressure from the rest of the field.
When the dust finally settled, Preece eked out Dillon for fifth and it’s all the reigning Xfinity Series champion needed to make the 40-car grid.
Cindric mentioned if there was a way to tell Preece something over the radio, he’ll offer him two things. Dinner and some tires for his Tour Modified, which he won Wednesday’s John Blewett III Memorial 76-lap event at New Smyrna Speedway.
“I don’t think he understood what the scenario were,” Cindric when he spoke to Preece after the race. “There was no bias because I was trying to link up. On the final lap, I knew I was behind him and had to shove. I never lifted and that was what my job was and it worked out for the best.”
The man who’ll run full-time in Cup next year, simply went for it at the finish. It didn’t matter if feelings were being hurt because it could’ve made a difference of making the 500 or going home.
“I didn’t care about anything other than shoving,” said Cindric. “I was trying to shape my own perception because the superspeedway stuff is so social. I feel like in this level, it’s much more and I can respect that perspective.”
Cindric added it’s his own responsibility not letting the digital dash system, which the Xfinity Series don’t have, become a main pitfall.
“You can definitely call it a rookie mistake, but it’s still my job. I have gone over it in great detail with the lights I needed to hit. I think I launched earlier than I should’ve,” Cindric on his first race with the digital dash system.
“I think it was a fourth-tenths of a mile an hour. Everything else, I was extremely conservative on. A new element to me, but there’s a lot of first time things that were a lot hard that wasn’t speeding.”
Now that he’ll be in his first 500, he’ll have some time to study film and do something he’s never done before – watch one of the 200-lap races.
“All I’ve watched is Duels, drafting runs, qualifying runs and qualifying SMT, but I haven’t watched a single lap of the Daytona 500,” said Cindric. “That prep starts now and I have couple of days to that.”
In addition of learning from previous 500s, he’ll also have Ford mates to lean on. Something he hasn’t had because in Xfinity, it was him and Chase Briscoe representing the “Blue Oval” brand.
“I’m not really used to having people to work with. It’s been me and Briscoe, so you kind of get used to being the only person looking out for you. Which is fine, I think it gives you a little freedom,” Cindric commented.
“That’ll definitely change with longer races and longer fuel runs, so I look forward learning more on that in the race.”
From all smiles to total heartbreak, the DNQ will mark Dillon’s first Cup DNQ of his career and Gaunt Brothers Racing’s second straight after Daniel Suarez’s crash last year.
The other driver who’ll be packing their bags and head home after Duel No. 1 was 19th place finisher Timmy Hill. It’ll be the 11th time he failed to qualify for a Cup race and the first since Texas in November 2018. Therefore, he won’t be able to recreate some of the magic from last year’s Speedweeks.