CREW CHIEF: Brian Wilson
TEAM: Team Penske
POINTS: Second in Xfinity Series
WINS: Five (Daytona I, Phoenix I, Dover, Pocono, Indianapolis road course)
LAPS LED: 1,150
TOP 5s: 22
TOP 10s: 26
QUALIFIED FIRST: 11 times (Daytona I, Homestead-Miami, Atlanta I, Talladega I, Mid-Ohio, Michigan, Richmond, Las Vegas II, Charlotte Roval, Martinsville II, Phoenix II)
WHAT WENT RIGHT: From a statistical standpoint, Austin Cindric did everything he possibly could to defend his Xfinity Series championship from 2020. Cindric’s five wins tied AJ Allmendinger for most among series regulars, and like Allmendinger, he won on a diverse array of track types (superspeedway, one-mile ovals, 2.5-mile triangular oval, road course). After that, Cindric led the series outright in major categories such as top-five and top-10 finishes, laps led, average finish (8.2), and average running position (6.8).
Cindric was beaten for the Xfinity regular season title by Allmendinger, but with both drivers holding 44 playoff points at the start of the post-season, it would take a collapse for them not to reach the Championship 4. That didn’t happen for either driver. Cindric posted an average finish of 3.8 through the first two playoff rounds to once again reach the title finale in Phoenix.
Preparing for a full-time move to the Cup Series in 2022, Cindric also made his first seven starts at NASCAR’s top level in a fourth Team Penske entry (Best finish: Ninth – Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course).
WHAT WENT WRONG: Following his fifth Xfinity win of the season at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Cindric held an 82-point lead over Allmendinger for the regular season title with five races left. But consecutive DNFs for Cindric at Michigan and Daytona – combined with finishes of first and second for Allmendinger in those races – gave Allmendinger a 17-point edge. It ultimately came down to the regular season finale at Bristol three weeks later, where Allmendinger narrowly held off Cindric for the win and the regular season title.
As noted above, Cindric still reached the Championship 4 without too much trouble. At Phoenix, Cindric appeared to have the race and overall title in hand, but three cautions within the final 20 laps sent the race into overtime. On the final lap of OT, Hemric and Cindric made contact coming to the checkered flag before Hemric reached the stripe first.
Hemric’s first career NASCAR win – and the overall title – came at Cindric’s expense. But afterwards, Cindric was okay with what transpired at the end: “I’ve certainly had worse. Wasn’t enough to wreck it. Until you spin somebody out, it’s not dirty racing.”
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2022: Cindric will move up to the Cup Series full-time and take over Team Penske’s flagship No. 2 Ford, replacing Brad Keselowski (now a driver-owner at RFK Racing). He’ll work with crew chief Jeremy Bullins and compete for Cup rookie of the year honors against pseudo-teammate Harrison Burton (No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford) and Todd Gilliland (No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford).