By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Austin Cindric came into Saturday’s iK9 Service Dog 200 at ISM Raceway with a game plan of executing a strong performance that could pay dividends in November, and strong they were. Cindric brought his No. 22 MoneyLion Ford Mustang home in fifth and racked up that essential playoff point he’s been fighting for throughout his NASCAR career.
The first caution of the afternoon came out on Lap 32 after Bayley Currey’s No. 17 Port of Tucson Chevrolet Camaro blew an oil line and slammed the Turn 4 wall, finishing last out of the 37-car field. This is where Cindric led all of his 13 laps when his No. 22 Team Penske crew, led by crew chief Brian Wilson, kept him out for track position as the stage was winding down.
Cindric wasn’t the only driver who stayed out as there was six other competitors who followed suit. This set the stage for the late restart, where Cindric was money when the green flag dropped, pulling away from Michael Annett and built up a nice lead at one point.
Then came one of the drivers who pitted for fresh tires, notably Christopher Bell, who moved all the way up to second, but came up short of passing Cindric, who scored his first stage victory of the season.
The 20-year-old said after the race that getting those valuable playoff points does excellent wonders for he and the team’s confidence knowing that they’ll come back in November, the home of the penultimate race of the season and cutoff from eight playoff drivers down to four, which Cindric hopes he’s in that title mix.
“For me Playoff points are huge, especially moving into the Playoffs,” said Cindric. “I’ve done NASCAR racing for two years with not a lot of Playoff points in the Playoffs and I can tell you right now it’s not a lot of fun, so getting the Playoff points and building that up throughout the season and really being able to execute a solid day is great. Brian had a great strategy call to keep us out and obviously being able to hold off Bell by a small margin at the end was great for us and then just have a top five day with no issues and no mistakes was nice.”
Once capturing a playoff point, Cindric’s afternoon was relatively quiet after pitting and lining up 12th for Stage 2. He scored an additional five stage points after crossing the line in sixth.
From there, he battled a loose handling car in the final stage, but remained inside the top-10 for just about the rest of the afternoon.
As the race came down to the wire, Cindric began making moves on the track and cracked the top-five once again, where he would stay there to finish in fifth, equaling his season best at Daytona.
It’s Cindric’s second top-five of the season and made a points leap from 10th to sixth in the championship standings.
Cindric felt that he got the most out of his car on short runs that helped him out in Stage 1, but when it came to the long runs, he had to nurse his Mustang.
“Yeah, I think we did. I think we made the most with a short run car,” said Cindric. “It would have been great to have a late-race restart there because I think later on as we tried to nurse our long-run speed, we just kind of learned that our short-run speed we might as well make that the most, so I’m proud of what we did today. I think we learned a lot and hopefully enough to bring us back in the fall and have a good run again.”
Now with four races in the books, Cindric said there’s room for improvement on his Team Penske machine, but today’s efforts showcased a starting point of make a push for the Xfinity Series championship.
“We’ve got a few things to make our cars better and be able to keep running top five and then top three and then contend for wins,” Cindric explained. “It’s a long season. It’s a marathon and it was a good baseline day today.”