DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Austin Cindric only knows one culture — the crisp, clean, “Penske Perfect” way of doing things — and it fits him rather well.
He has grown up inside Team Penske, where his father was hired as president when Cindric was just a baby. Cindric was toddling along the Yard of Bricks two years later as his family celebrated Helio Castroneves' first Indianapolis 500 victory.
Cindric is no longer the little boy who nearly knocked over the Borg-Warner Trophy during Castroneves' celebration back in 2001. He's a 23-year-old professional race car driver earning his own keep at Team Penske.
Cindric stamped his spot in Penske history Sunday by winning the Daytona 500 on Roger Penske's 85th birthday. The team owner has known Cindric since he was child "playing with his toys in his bedroom” back in Pennsylvania.
“I’ve seen him grow up as a young man. He’s been focused, he’s been a student of the game, is a smart young man," Penske said. "I think he works with the team well. He’s in the shop all the time. And he’s a team player, and he understands his position. He’s a mature man at his age.”
Inherited or learned, Cindric has developed from his front row seat inside the gold standard of race teams. His role models and mentors are motorsports icons and his own family is deeply entrenched in the sport.
Tim Cindric was hired at the end of the 1999 season to run Team Penske, and Tim's father, Carl, was a longtime Indianapolis engine builder. Cindric's maternal grandfather was Jim Trueman, who died of cancer 10 days after Bobby Rahal drove Trueman's car to victory in the 1986 Indianapolis 500.
And as Cindric chased his own racing dreams, it was his mother, Megan, who handled his career. Tim Cindric was running Team Penske, so it was Megan taking her teenage son to tracks across the country.
By the time he was 16, Cindric had earned a pair of starts in the Truck Series driving for Brad Keselowski. He ran a fulltime truck schedule in 2017 and made it to the Xfinity Series the next season. He won two races in 2019, both on road courses.
Cindric was in his third full Xfinity season when the pandemic hit and Penske contemplated shuttering his Xfinity program. When the team was saved, Cindric emerged a different driver. He won six races in 2020 and beat Chase Briscoe to win the Xfinity championship.
It was an odd transition for Cindric, who established himself while racing in front of empty grandstands and closed garages.
“A lot of my success in the Xfinity Series, especially in 2020, came in an incubator. And when we got fans back at the racetrack, all of a sudden everybody knew who I was, and that was really weird for me,” he said.
The success didn't get Cindric the promotion he wanted. Penske decided Cindric would run one more year in NASCAR's second-tier series then drive the No. 21 for The Wood Brothers.
“Probably one of the tougher meetings I had with him was when we decided not to put him into Cup,” Penske said. “He took it like a man. He said, ‘You make the call. I’m going to make it happen.’"
It worked just fine for Cindric, who insists he felt no pressure to perform.
“I’m not an externally motivated person and I’m not an externally intimidated person,” Cindric said. “My head is pretty much in the game 24/7. I don’t think about much, anything else, except for racing. I don’t have much of a social life.”
Cindric's path was altered when Keselowski decided to leave Team Penske for an ownership stake in another organization. That opened the seat in Penske's flagship No. 2 Ford for the son of the team president.
With one race down, he has already locked himself into the playoffs and the right to race for the Cup Series title.
“If there’s anything I have left to prove, I’m not sure what it is," Cindric said.
As their son celebrated the Daytona 500 win, Tim and Megan Cindric stood quietly in the background of the victory photos. It was Penske who was front and center with the winning driver, and in that moment it was OK.
“He’s a lot more than just my boss. Next to my parents, he’s probably been the most influential person in my life,” he said. “If I can be half the man Roger Penske is, I’d say I’ve lived a good life.”
It was much later that Cindric caught up with his parents. He called his mother “the backbone of my racing career” and “my rock” and reflected on the interesting dynamic he has with his father.
After his car had passed inspection and his team had finished its Steak N Shake celebration, Cindric sat down with his father for the first time all week. They met in the trailer he'd borrowed from his parents to use at Daytona and talked about what kind of schedule Cindric might have this week as the Daytona 500 winner.
“It’s not his first rodeo,” Cindric of his dad. “I’ve had great leadership throughout my life and great examples set for me throughout my life. I’m very proud of the family that I’ve come from, the person that my dad is and the way he leads our team.
"As far as my upbringing and my exposure to Roger and this race team.... I think that’s my biggest asset. How to do things professionally, how to do things the right way, I don’t see a way to do anything differently.”
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