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February 11, 2021

Austin Cindric

Daytona, Florida, USA

Press Conference

Daytona International Speedway

An Interview with:

THE MODERATOR: Austin, thank you for joining us. We'll go straight into questions for Austin Cindric.

Q. How do you feel about getting in the way you got in? Looked like going into turn three, exiting turn four, Ty was going to finish in front and things might have been different. How do you feel it played out with you getting a lap down because of the pit road penalty?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, I never felt so small in my life (laughter). I felt like I did all the hard things right, all the things I didn't know how to do.

I just launched a little too early leaving the pit road. From there tried to merge into the pack knowing the 37 was my only chance. Not my only chance but my best chance of getting in. My only other chance of getting in was the 36 beating everybody else in the second Duel.

Once I got lined up behind the 37, whether he knew it or not I was going to push him as hard as I could. Locked on down the back straightaway. Got him on the line by a couple hundredths. Some days it's your day, I guess.

I obviously feel really lucky here in this position, representing Verizon, Ford Performance, Team Penske, the biggest race in our sport. A long race ahead to figure out the rest of the stuff I don't know. Proud of the effort. Hopefully no more speeding penalties.

Q. Do you feel lucky? Do you feel it was a gift the way things worked out, you were still able to make the 500?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: In some ways I feel lucky. The scenario in which it had to play out was very specific. The 37 got trapped on the top. When the 96 went down to the middle lane in three and four, I shoved for all I could.

Obviously Ty drove a really great race. I think he outdrove what he was driving, put himself in a great position. It's unfortunate because he's definitely a veteran of the series. I think he deserves to be in the race. Like I said, some days it's your day and some days it isn't.

Q. Have you worked with the digital dash before? You don't want to make an excuse...

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, that was my first time working with the digital dash. You can definitely call it a rookie mistake, but it's still my job. I'm not going to use that as an excuse.

I've gone over it in great detail, the lights I need to hit. Honestly I think I launched earlier than I should have. It was 4/10ths of a mile an hour, everything else he was conservative on. New element for me, first time for me. There were a lot of first time things that were a lot harder than not speeding. That was the one that got us.

Q. What was the hardest thing?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: I've never been in traffic. Working with a new race car. Not knowing where the tires were going to go, running 60 laps on a set of tires. Only got about six laps of practice. There were a lot of people in that scenario.

You don't know what you don't know. That's the stressful thing. For us to get to the front early and race hard, shove well, make a difference, I gained a lot of confidence tonight. I feel a lot more comfortable and a lot more knowledgeable about what I have to do on Sunday. At the same time you can't mess up the easy stuff.

Q. Can you give me a sense of what it was like to race in the field. This is a smaller field than Sunday. Different level competition. You guys in the Xfinity go after each other tooth and nail. How much different was this? What was that last lap like?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: The last lap I didn't care about anything else around me other than shoving. I think that's probably the first time the entire race that I didn't worry about who was in what car, hurting whose feelings.

Trying to (indiscernible) my own expectations and own perception. The superspeedway stuff is so social. I feel like in this level, it's even that much more because these guys have been racing the same guys for 10 years or more than that. I can respect that perspective.

Early on in the night when I was lined up on the first couple rows there, I was very cognizant of who I was racing, trying to understand what they were doing, learning. I learned a lot in those first 30 laps about how guys manage things, in a lot of ways I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it. It's everybody doing everything right. You have to be perfect. That's the kind of racing I like. That's what you want as a competitor, to be racing against the best.

You can tell immediately. Nothing against the guys that race in the Xfinity Series, but I think there's definitely a step up and there's definitely more for me to learn.

Q. Your teammates are really good. How much time did you get around the 11 car because of his success, pick some things off of him?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, I wasn't around him a whole bunch. I definitely looked for him, especially when I was trying to make moves. If there's two guys in our Duel that I was going to follow whenever they moved, it was going to be the 22 and the 11. Those guys are the best at this stuff. They're the most aggressive in this package. Really rewards aggression at the right times. Those guys are good at doing that.

I didn't get around them much. I guess I got 500 miles to continue to watch.

Q. What were you thinking when you were running around and you had been penalized for speeding, you knew you didn't have control of your own fate?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Two things. I felt like I was the smallest person in the world because I tried very hard not to speed. I still did it. So obviously an oversight, probably jumped the gun a little bit there on the exit to pit road. For the first four laps after that, I had to regroup myself, figure out how I can make a difference.

The best way I can make a difference was to push the 37 by the 96. I got in a situation where guys started splitting off the top. The 37 didn't migrate off the top. I could see the guy who I wanted to push, I could see the guy who I wanted to push him by. I'm not going to take full credit for that. You can't give up. I've got a spotter that's been with me for a while. Coleman was able to spot for me in the Duels. He knows the type of driver I am. He knows I got over it pretty quick. After I get the facts, it's on to the next thing. That's what I had to do. I think anybody else would have done the same thing.

I definitely feel like I played a role. Definitely still feel lucky.

Q. Do you overthink the speeding penalty or are you able to move on from it before Sunday?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Speeding is speeding. You either are or you aren't. I want to go back and look over the segments, compare what I did to practice, get better.

Q. You touched on it a little bit because you found a way to shove in there at the end. Even before that, how big a Ryan Priest fan were you when it didn't look like it was going to happen?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: If I had a radio to him, I would have told him I was buying him modified tires, dinner, whatever he needs. I don't think he really knew the scenario. Even when I talked to him on pit road after the Duel, I don't think he understood what the scenario was there.

I guess you can assure there was no bias. I was definitely trying to get linked up. But at that point on the final lap, I knew that I was behind him and had a chance to shove. No matter what was happening in the lanes in front of me, guys, too much stack, whatever, I was pushing. I never lifted. That was what my job was. It obviously worked out for the best.

Q. How do you refocus now for Sunday knowing that you're in and you can focus on race trim Saturday?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: I got a race on Saturday. I got practice tomorrow. I have to drive my Xfinity car. I'm locked into the race, that feels nice. I get to sleep a little better. I haven't even watched the Daytona 500. All I've watched is Duels and drafting runs and qualifying runs and qualifying SMT. I haven't watched a single lap of the Daytona 500. That prep starts now. I got a couple days to do that. My priority now shifts to Saturday and trying to start off the season right there.

Q. How was your car in the draft? How does that give you confidence for Sunday?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, I think we're all right. We obviously showed, our Penske car showed a lot better in the race than in qualifying. So that's encouraging. That's where it counts.

I feel confident. There's some things I think we need to get a little bit better, definitely seemed to get a little bit freer. Scared myself a few times. Just learning more about this car and what it needs and whether if that's the right height or aero difference or the motor package difference. There's definitely some things I want to work on. I know what direction I think I need to go or at least help steer and understand more about for Saturday's practice session.

Past that, yeah, I learned a lot. I think we got a fast Verizon Ford 5G Mustang. I think that showed early, we were able to stay up and make a difference. I gained some confidence further up in the pack, whether that be side drafting, how to control the level, giving the pushes. It's all part of the learning process.

Q. This being your first time running exclusively with Cup competition, what did you learn about yourself as a racer?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: I don't say this to sound arrogant, but I wasn't out to lunch. It gives you a little bit of confidence. These guys are the best. When they come to the Xfinity Series, they run up front, usually doesn't matter what they're driving. I know that. It's a rabbit to chase.

The fact that I was able to be in the game, granted it's a superspeedway, the challenges are more mental than they are performance, it's good. It's a good starting spot for me. I think speedways are a lot different. I think you need to ask me after my first mile-and-a-half, short track, when I get humbled a little bit. Past that, definitely a good place to start.

Q. Did your team test tell you you're actually in? Was it a surprise to you?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: It wasn't a surprise. I knew the scenario. I knew who I needed to shove. I knew that that was my goal, that was what needed to happen. I think a couple laps after I rejoined the track after I served my penalty, I asked where the 37 was in regards to the 96. The closer that he got to the 96, the closer I was able to make a difference.

The way that last lap played out obviously was in our favor. I was trying to be mindful that I was a lap car in a pack of cars racing for their starting spots, didn't want to screw up anyone's race. At the same time I have a lot more on the line. Definitely gave it my all there.

Knew the scenario going in. I also knew that even things didn't work out, Regan would still be able to have a shot at beating everybody else in the second Duel. That was our last shot to make it in the race. It wasn't completely over, but you always want to control what you can control.

Q. Did you have any sense that Priest was going to try to finish best he could because they need points, and this race paid points?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: I would assume that's the motivation, right? It's the points and the starting spot. He seemed to be fairly conservative just knowing that he was in the race. Didn't migrate off the top lane for the last 12 laps of the race. He still never did. That was what worried me, is I think it was looking like he was conservative, didn't really want to risk his car, which I can understand in that position.

Once we got on the back straightaway, I had a good run, I just shoved. Past that I think he was running his own race. Like I said, I talked to him on pit road, I don't think he was really aware of what was at stake between me and the 96 and his role in that, which I think is good. It's unbiased. Like I said before, if it's your day, it's your day. Today it was lucky it's my day.

Q. Did you sleep last night? Were you nervous coming into today? What was your thoughts all day? A long wait to get to this point.

AUSTIN CINDRIC: I don't think I got out of bed till 1:00. Late start. I was taking advantage of that.

You balance it in your head. After qualifying was a bit frustrating, not to be really close to transferring in on time, which it's part of it. I think the guys that qualify in, obviously deserve it. They brought faster cars.

For me, I prepared for this. I knew this was going to be the scenario. I knew this was going to be the risk, our sponsors knew this was going to be the risk, trying to race our way in.

The reality is I'm in a fortunate position to know it's not going to be my first shot as a Daytona 500. Perhaps that gives me a little bit of comfort knowing it's not the end of the world, not the end of my career if things don't work out today. But you're still competitive. You still want to go after it.

I was up till 1 a.m. looking at SMT, looking at past races, listening to different spotters. I fell asleep at my computer. But, yeah, nerves went away pretty quick. I'm not one to get nervous, especially if I've done the prep work.

After we started going, felt normal. Felt fun. It's been a while since I've raced, since Phoenix, since I've raced. It's good to get back after it.

Q. Were you able to learn anything from this race, from having Joey Logano in the field, working with the Mustangs?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, I think I was never really in a position that there was too many manufacturers, and I watched the race from afar. Maybe it was different. After the start of the race, I was stuck on the outside. Not stuck on the outside but making the outside work. I felt like there were a lot of Fords on the inside. I knew there were at least friends near me, which is better than not near me.

I'm also not really used to having people to work with, other Fords on the racetrack. It's been me and Briscoe in the Xfinity Series for a while. You kind of get used to being the only guy looking out for you, which is fine. I think it gives you a little bit of freedom.

Yeah, obviously that will change in the race. The race strategy stuff changes that, given longer races, longer fuel runs. I look forward to learning more about that in the race.

Q. You talked to your teammates, all of them have won restrictor plate races. Any of them that you feel better suits your style of driving and their style where you feel like you're more capable of talking about approaching the race?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, I mean, I think each guy has different strengths. I think the best thing I can do is observe and learn from them all. I think that's one thing I learned since I started the NASCAR stuff. I reached out to Joey, Brad and Ryan on a weekly basis when I started truck racing, given who was available, who was taking my phone calls, who I thought would be able to give me the best advice.

I feel like the more I've spent time in NASCAR, I've had to learn for myself, use those experiences for myself. The more you can learn off other drivers, you have more access to that data in the Cup Series, you can make more conclusions by yourself, I think the more it gives someone who puts in the work an advantage.

I just drive myself on that, try to drink from a fire hydrant, learn something, apply it, obviously not make the same mistakes afterwards.

Q. You mentioned you raced with Chase Briscoe in the Xfinity Series. Is he somebody you feel comfortable working together with in this race?

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Yeah, absolutely. The funny thing, it's awesome that we both get to make our first Cup Series start together, racing the Daytona 500. He and I talked about that last year when we were here IMSA racing, how cool it would be to move up together, run the 500 together.

Obviously we were able to develop a great relationship on the speedways, understand each other's strengths and weaknesses. Obviously developed a great friendship, whether that's through being teammates at Ford, being around each other, racing against each other, competitors, whatever it may be.

That's pretty special for the two of us. He's obviously got a really great opportunity this year for a full-time ride. Quietly rooting for him. Definitely cool to be able to do it together.

THE MODERATOR: Austin, thank you for joining us. Congratulations again on making the Daytona 500.

AUSTIN CINDRIC: Cool. Thank you.

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