Austin Cindric COTA Preview

Ford Performance Notes and QuotesNASCAR Cup Series
Circuit of The Americas Advance | Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Austin Cindric, driver of the No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang, will be making his 49th career NASCAR Cup Series start at Circuit of The Americas this weekend. Cindric has shifted his road racing experiences to NASCAR, producing NXS wins with Ford at Watkins Glen (2019), Mid-Ohio (2019), Road America (2020), Daytona Road Course (2020), and Indianapolis Road Course (2021).
AUSTIN CINDRIC, No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang – WHAT DO YOU THINK THE STRATEGY WILL BE AND HOW WILL IT CHANGE WITH THE LACK OF STAGE CAUTIONS? “I think it changes a lot in comparison to… I’d say especially what we saw last year with stage racing and how it really impacted the road courses. I’d say COTA probably wasn’t the worst, but as far as like Sonoma, you either took points or you decided to finish well. You had opportunities for people to decide if they had a car that was good enough to win or just take points. Obviously, in my opinion, the purpose of the stage points is to reward the cars that run well, and I think everyone would agree that the winner of the race should be one of the best cars. With that all being said, I’m not saying that the best cars didn’t win races last year, but I think with eliminating the breaks and the ability for us to run green flags pretty organically – probably more traditionally – it really changes the opportunity for strategy depending on cautions and potentially fuel mileage. I think it really changes the strategy of the race and how to go about your speed, but also and most importantly, it gives the chance for the best cars of that race to be rewarded for being the best.”

AFTER A MESSY XFINITY AND TRUCK RACE AT ATLANTA, WHAT KIND OF RACE DO YOU THINK THIS WILL BE AT CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS? “I think relating to last week, obviously you saw a really messy Xfinity and Truck series race, and a relatively calm, but racy, Cup race by the end of things. I honestly think I’m going to credit the Next Gen car to that one, because our cars can race like that a lot better because we’re not relying on side force. At some tracks we go to, you kind of wish we had that as a thing where you can manipulate cars in front or behind, or whatever else. But in that style of racing, I feel that makes it a lot easier to race side-by-side with people on our doors. You can make the argument of the quality of driver or experience and so on as high as the Cup series, but at the end of the day, there was a lot of wrecks that happened in Xfinity and Truck due to side force getting taken away with cars on the door. So as far as road racing and what to expect this weekend, and I think an extension of my initial answer, with these stage breaks and cautions, everyone gets stacked up on the restarts, COTA is an opportunity in corner No. 1 as far as making it eight, nine-wide going into a hairpin corner. I think those opportunities are certainly a lot less because I think the opportunity to go green flag for a lot longer is a lot higher. You think about tracks like COTA that have the most run-off than anywhere we go – you’re probably going to have to have stranded vehicles or multiple incidents, or probably a tire falling off to cause a full-course caution.”

WERE YOU AT THE MUSTANG GT3 TESTING AT SEBRING, AND WHAT IS THE ANTICIPATION LEVEL FOR THAT CAR NEXT SEASON? WILL THIS BE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR FORD DRIVERS TO PREPARE FOR ROAD COURSE RACES IN CUP? “No, but I’ve watched the video in question about a million times. It certainly has the opportunity to be – from my own standpoint and not based on anything else or conversations I’ve had. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships I have. It’s an exciting time in GT racing just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars. Also the opportunity with WC and Le Mans, and how it all lines up for that category of car, it’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible. How that relates specifically to NASCAR, the drivers and how often they want to participate or be in the Rolex… could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer. But the challenge, the drive and logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to kind of find your one-off ride for the race – at least in my experience and that’s what I still anticipate. I definitely think there is more of a pathway than I’d think before as far as Ford drivers are concerned. I’m excited. Hopefully, I get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. I think that’s the first box you have to check, and it’s cool for a guy like Jim Farley – there’s no doubt he’s a racer as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see that he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”

DO YOU AGREE WITH WHERE NASCAR PUT THE CHOOSE LINE AT CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS, AND DO YOU THINK IT WILL CHANGE MUCH FOR THE RESTARTS? “Do I think it’ll change much for the restarts? Probably not. I’ll be honest: It probably creates a bit more of a logistical complication at a road course, just because usually for me, I rely on my spotter a lot for the information. Especially when you’re kind of outside the top-10 and don’t have much of a scope on the field. I feel like anyone is just going to take the track position opportunity. But, it does give you the option to make a right or wrong decision, so it definitely adds plenty of stress to the driver, and it can certainly change your day depending on if it’s better or worse. You can certainly make the same argument for speedway racing, but regardless, I think the back straightaway out of Turn 11 is going to be the best place for the choose zone. It’s really the only straightaway that gives NASCAR enough time to look at the line-up and make the decisions they’d need to make if someone messes up on the choose or if there’s a problem with the line-up. So, from that standpoint, I think it’s the best location for it. I think that’ll be different depending on each road course as far as logistically which section of racetrack – it’ll probably be different at IMS, Chicago, Sonoma or somewhere else, or the rovals. It’ll be interesting to see how challenging it is. From my own personal standpoint, we’re prioritizing to have a spotter over in that location just for that implementation. So, it’ll be interesting to see how it goes this weekend and how much influence it’ll have. I feel like the choose for the drivers, more times than not, is an opportunity to screw up more than it is an opportunity to gain something. So, it’s definitely a factor but probably not as big of a factor as maybe what it was last weekend at Atlanta.”

WITH TWO FORMER FORMULA 1 CHAMPIONS AND A FORMER IMSA CHAMPION, HOW BIG IS THIS RACE AS A WHOLE, AND HAVE YOU FELT THIS MUCH HYPE FOR A ROAD RACE SINCE YOU BEGAN IN NASCAR? “It’s really cool. As far as the pedigree of drivers, not only in our own field but also guys who are coming in for a one-off or a couple of unique opportunities, I’d say between guys with experience with this Garage 56 program between Jordan [Taylor] and Jenson [Button] and obviously Kimi [Räikkönen]’s experience last year and actually coming in with some relative seat-time… the guys also won here in Formula 1 so it’s not like he doesn’t know the track – maybe Watkins Glen. I’ll be certainly expecting for him to perform at an even higher level than what he did at Watkins. Excited to see that and excited to race against guys like that, and have them in our sport, stadium and wacky way of doing things probably in comparison to what they’re used to. It’s a lot of fun and fun to see the growth of someone who’s trying this for the first time. I’ve been in this sport for what I would consider a limited amount of time, and the things that were new to me and strange to me are probably strange, new or different for someone else. It’s fun to see what those different, strange, awkward moments are for other people as they’re trying to learn. I think it’s fun for the race fans as well. Guys like that who are extremely established, I would expect probably every single one of them in a certain respect to have some pace this weekend.”

LAST YEAR, YOU HAD THE DAYTONA 500 WIN IN YOUR BACK POCKET. THIS YEAR, YOU HAVE TO THINK ABOUT POINTS RACING A LITTLE BIT MORE. WHAT’S THE APPROACH THIS YEAR AS OPPOSED TO LAST YEAR? “I’d say the first couple of races were a bit frustrating for us – just getting put into the wall three weeks in a row is just not going to be good for points. From that standpoint, last weekend was definitely our best points weekend in Atlanta. I’d say, the points are also extremely tight right now because everyone is kind of having that up-and-down trying to find that footing. That’s where going into this year, I really thought you’d see the same parity and the same up-and-down performance, trying to find our consistency as you saw from a lot of groups last year. And that’s continuing this year. That consistency is huge for being in control of your own destiny points wise. I’m still of the belief that you’ll have to win a race to feel comfortable as far as playoffs are concerned. So, from that standpoint, playoff points are nice but a win still gets everything done for you.”

NO STAGE BREAKS ARE GOING TO CHANGE THE STRATEGY FOR TEAMS, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE DRIVERS? “I personally have never done a NASCAR sanctioned race that didn’t involve stage breaks. It’ll be new to me, as far as pushing those cars for that long. If it were the last generation car, I’d be concerned about brakes and those long green flag runs. I’d say with this Next Gen car, not so much. But someone’s going to fall out of the seat – that’s my prediction for the weekend. I can tell you it’s not going to be me, but I think it’s more possible this weekend than any other weekend. it’s not going to be cool by any means, and it’s a physically challenging track. You have that long back straightaway to rest, but I did the Goodyear tire test a couple months ago, and two days of driving around that place knocks you around – it’s a bumpy racetrack. You’re using a lot of the runoff that wasn’t meant to be driven on, so you’re getting tossed around in there, banging around, grabbing gears all the time and using your legs to brake. On top of that, they’re pretty hot race cars to drive. From that standpoint, I think it’ll be a pretty physical weekend.”

FOR SOMEONE WHO HAS A ROAD RACING BACKGROUND, WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RESURGENCE OF ROAD COURSE RINGERS AND IS THIS TREND GOING TO CONTINUE IN THE SPORT? “I’d say as cool as it is, I’d love for it to be a gateway or catalyst to see guys of that caliber – they’re not just guys who come and do road courses but they’re champions and world champions and were, or are, the best at what they do… and they’re coming and joining our racing. I hope it’s a catalyst or gateway for them joining us on not just road courses, but oval racing as well. I mean, it’s so different, but I feel it challenges you in so many different ways. I’m looking forward to one of those guys getting the opportunity to go outside of their comfort zone and do just that. Because I know how big of a difference and culture shift it was for me. So yeah, I hope it’s a gateway for that.”

WHAT EFFECT DO YOU THINK THE SHORT TRACK ROAD COURSE PACKAGE WILL HAVE ON THIS RACE? “As far as the effect on this race: it’s hard to say. Obviously, we raced at Phoenix and kind of saw the differences or lack thereof as far as the race. It’s going to change a bit how you setup the car or how you offset it. Your guess is as good as mine as far as what it’s going to be like compared to last year’s aero configuration other than the fact that it’s a lot less downforce, which means there will be a lot less grip and a lot slower. You could make the argument that a couple inches off the rear spoiler probably creates less drag and you could probably make up some time on the straightaways. But passed that, I think you’ll be fighting for grip in the braking zones and definitely into the higher speed corners. It’s just how much and how much do I need to adjust our car for it.”

DOES THE LOWER DOWNFORCE LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD FOR THE ROAD COURSE RINGERS JOINING THE FIELD FOR THE RACE? “I think to a certain extent, it does. I would also say whatever percentage of downforce we took off is probably just going to be that much less than Kimi Räikkönen or Jenson Button has ever driven in a race car – because it’s a lot less. From that standpoint, those guys are in for a treat depending on how you expect it. In comparison to Watkins Glen, you could be really aggressive with our cars at Watkins Glen just with how fast and how much grip that track surface has, and I’d say the lack of straight-line brake zones, that’ll probably be the biggest difference for a guy like Kimi who hasn’t really had to do that much straight-line braking in one of these cars. But these guys are really talented at what they do. I’ve always said, ‘A race car’s a race car.’ So, I think as far as car control and the ability to make lap time, I have zero doubt that those guys will be on pace. So, from that standpoint, does it level the field? Maybe, because everyone is scrambling just as much as the next guy. But, I think having practice and that 50-minute session, the opportunity to change some tires and feel some things out, that will probably be more beneficial than anything.”

WE SAW THE TOYOTA STRUGGLE ON THE ROAD COURSES A LOT LAST YEAR UNTIL CHRISTOPHER BELL WON AT THE ROVAL. NOW THEY HAVE TYLER REDDICK IN THEIR CAMP, WHO WON TWO RACES. WITH THIS NEW CAR, CAN ONE DRIVER MOVING OVER MAKE AN IMPACT ON HOW A PARTICULAR CAR PERFORMS – ESPECIALLY ON ROAD COURSES – WHEN THERE HAVE BEEN STRUGGLES IN THE PAST? “I think it’ll be a great example with Tyler, who clearly had an impact in almost every road course race that we ran last year as far as running out front, including Circuit of The Americas. From that perspective, absolutely. I think a driver can come in and make an impact as far as not just on the racetrack, but also the culture. As far as giving the team confidence, ‘Hey this is a somebody who’s clearly been able to make this work. We have to believe in how far off we are or aren’t.’ If they are on pace or not on pace. If it wasn’t the Cup series, I’d say it makes more of a difference. But it takes the entire package. It’s about the guy in the controls and making the right decisions about the race car, but it’s about having the right race car at the same time, the execution – it’s about all those things. I still think it’s about having the big package. I think having a clear-cut example of someone who’s been able to make it work can certainly help a program that may be struggling. The inconsistency and their performance I would agree with, certainly an observation of mine. It seemed like Hendrick and RCR were super strong, especially by the end of the year on road courses. So from that standpoint, I’d look at those guys as the groups to beat heading into COTA.”

NEXT WEEK AT RICHMOND WITH THE SURFACE, YOU THINK THE CHANGES WILL BE MORE PRONOUNCED THAN WHAT WE SAW AT PHOENIX? “Yeah, I think so. I think there are less places to hide at Richmond as far as when you’re bad, you’re really bad. This package, even at Phoenix, even when you were a little bit off, you were really off. I could certainly see Richmond being more of an extreme example and probably the most extreme you’d ever see as far as that’s concerned. I think that’s a perfect example of a race weekend that you’re going to have to think the guys that execute and keep up with the track are going to really be able to excel with this package or have the opportunity to excel more with this package than the previous package. But characteristically, I feel like a lot of those things are the same, but a little bit more exaggerated with there being a smaller window on grip.”


John Davison

Long-time RIS staffer, beginning in the mid-80s. Charlotte, NC area local contact.

Read More on Cup / XFINITY / Truck press releases
Volume 2023, Issue 3, Posted 5:14 PM, 03.22.2023