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interviews with nascar series stars and owners

AUSTIN CINDRIC

The NASCAR XFINITY Series playoffs kick off this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with Ford drivers Austin Cindric and Riley Herbst representing Ford in the 12-driver field.  Both drivers were part of a media day session and answered questions about the postseason.

 

AUSTIN CINDRIC, No. 22 Carshop Ford Mustang ó WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND AFTER THE RACE WHEN YOU HEARD THE CROWD START BOOING YOU, AND THEN CHEER FOR YOU AT THE?  ďIt was certainly different than probably anything Iíve ever really experienced.  I was definitely still processing, not what happened.  I was quite aware of what happened, but more or less how I wanted to handle it and how I wanted to be perceived.  Those are things you do think about and I wasnít sure.  It came to me that the only reason I was being booed is I wasnít saying anything and I donít know if there are people wanting me to get fired up about it and get upset about it and get all pissed off on camera, Iím not sure thatís really me, so nonetheless that was interesting.  I did also learn throughout the weekend that if you say Itís Bristol, Baby itís pretty much like a go-to line to get the fans pumped up whether youíre a reporter or a driver.  Itís like the applause thing must be on the jumbotron because they just go crazy anytime you say it, so I guess thatíll be my go-to next time when I lose them.  You just talk about how Itís Bristol, Baby.Ē

 

YOU WON THE TITLE LAST YEAR AND KNOW WHAT YOUíRE DOING NEXT YEAR, SO WHAT IS THE FEELING LIKE FOR THESE PLAYOFFS?  IS IT LIKE NOT WANTING TO LEAVE ANYTHING OUT THERE?  ďYeah, Iím way too competitive for that.  I havenít even honestly thought about 2022 with the exception of kind of some Next Gen tests that are coming up, but, otherwise Iím pretty focused on this, whether itís for me and myself and my own personal reasons and my own personal motivations or for my team as well.  Iíve been with the same group of guys throughout the majority of my XFINITY career and I wouldnít be the driver I am without them, so Iím excited to try and finish this off on the highest note possible.  I think about growing together.  Brian Wilson, my crew chief, they just had their first kid a couple days ago, so a lot of fun things are changing and happening for us as a group, but, at the same time, thereís no better motivation than something like last week and bringing fast race cars to try and go out and do our jobs.  I think thereís a lot to fight for.Ē

 

AJ HASNíT GONE DEEP INTO ANY PLAYOFF SITUATION.  DOES THAT GIVE YOU AN ADVANTAGE?  ďI think yes and no, mostly no.  I mean, heís a professional and heís done this his entire life, a lot longer than Iíve been driving race cars, so Iím not particularly concerned about racing just one individual car.  For us, itís the road to Phoenix and nothing else really matters.  Thatís their biggest mountain to overcome and itís our biggest mountain to overcome.  If we get into the final four, I think perhaps thatís more of an appropriate time for that question because I have been in that final four.  I feel like I know what mentality I need to take to do that, but the hardest part about this playoffs is getting there.Ē

 

AJ SAID EARLIER THAT YOU AND THE 22 TEAM MAKE KAULIG RACING AND HIS TEAM BETTER BECAUSE YOU UP THE GAME SO MUCH.  WHATíS YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON THAT FROM THE OTHER SIDE?  ďAbsolutely.  I think you could throw the 54 into that mix as well.  Any competitor, especially when youíre racing at the highest level trying to win races, trying to win championships, any competitor you want those guys to push you and I certainly feel like those two groups in particular have certainly pushed us.  You look at that race team as a whole over probably the last four or five years there has been a lot of progress, a lot of growth within that team and I think thatís exciting for the series.  Thereís obviously something to be said for that and theyíre competitive and racing us for wins week in and week out, so you definitely canít shy away from it.Ē

 

DOES THE FINISH OF BRISTOL CHANGE THE DYNAMIC OF HOW YOU AND AJ RACE TOGETHER?  ďYes and no.  I think it certainly confirmed some things for me as far as the length in which he would go to in certain racing situations.  For me, I donít think it changes how I race.  I intend to race for a championship in a certain way and Iím not gonna marry myself to this comment, but I donít intend to change that right now.  I certainly hope to continue that and hope to put ourselves in position to do so.Ē

 

HAS WHAT HAPPENED THE LAST FIVE WEEKS LINGERED FOR YOU OR HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO PUT IT ASIDE?  ďThe regular season is over.  You canít change it.  You canít do anything about it.  Like you said, the last four or five weeks have been terrible.  Everything about it.  I mean, I can write a book and it would be a pretty short story on how to lose 100 points in two weeks.  Itís racing.  Thatís what makes this challenging, I guess.  It certainly wasnít my favorite point in time, but at the same time I think we proved to ourselves and everybody else that when the heat was on we put ourselves in position to win that race and win that championship.  Unfortunately, it played out the way it did for us, but, nonetheless, I think thereís more to be said about how we approach those races and how we put ourselves in position and it was a good warm-up for the playoffs.Ē

 

HOW MUCH DOES LAST YEAR HELP YOU COMPARTMENTALIZE WHAT HAS HAPPENED THE LAST FEW WEEKS?  ďIíd be lying if I sat here and told you that it didnít affect anything, but I think we have confidence in ourselves as a race team.  I have confidence in my direction that I want to take the cars and do races and adjust things as races go on and seasons go on as well as our race team.  I think we thrive off of one another and I think that certainly can play a role.Ē

 

CAN YOU PROVIDE ANY INSIGHT ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH HARRISON BURTON AND HIS FAMILY?  ďYeah, Harrison and I have known each other for a while.  I think I was a senior while he was a freshman at Cannon School.  He was either a freshman or sophomore, I canít remember.  And then his sister and my older brother were actually pretty close throughout middle school and high school, so I definitely know them through that side as well.  Otherwise, just racing families.  Weíve been around this sport for a while.  Weíve obviously raced each other for a while.  I think Harrison and I get along pretty well.  Heís kind of one of those guys that he gets along with just about everybody, which is nice.  I think heíll be a great addition in the dynamic within our three cars and especially with the Wood Brothers. so excited to see what he has to bring to the table and looking forward to working together in the future.Ē

 

IS THERE ANYTHING SPECIFIC YOU CAN POINT TO WHERE RACING AGAINST AJ HAS HELPED YOU IMPROVE?  ďI think anytime you race against a driver with AJís caliber it just raises your standards, whether thatís how you approach a race weekend or the lengths youíll go in a race to strive for perfection and being fast.  I think itís great to be surrounded by people like that.  I think thatís why itís great to have Cup drivers come race against us.  Itís like when you put the regular person in with the Olympians and they go run the 100-meter dash.  That would never happen, but I think itís always great to get a little perspective.  That always helps quite a bit and that helps on the other side too if youíre able to not just equalize that, but overcome that it certainly does a lot of great things for you to have something to compare to and those around you.  I think that specifically I think AJ and I, in general, we have a pretty good relationship.  We did talk after Bristol and I think I understand where heís coming from.  I think thereís something to be said for where heís at in his life and his career and how motivated he still is.  I think for anyone that knows him thatís not much of a surprise, but I think heís hungry as ever and he doesnít care what anyone else thinks and I think thatís fun because he knows heís kind of definitely more at the end than he is at the beginning, so itís fun to see him that way and that competitive and I think thatís why the fans enjoy seeing him in the XFINITY Series.  At the same time, Bristol sucked for me, so certainly not my favorite experience, but nonetheless itís good for the sport.Ē

 

YOU SAID THAT PENSKE AND KAULIG SHARE THE SAME PLANE.  HOW WAS THE CONVERSATION AFTER THE RACE?  ďBristol, most of the race teams end up driving up because itís really close, so we didnít actually fly together.  I think that will be for Vegas this week, so I think all emotions have probably settled by then, but, yeah, itís a good dynamic.  I feel like itís definitely two contrasting race teams.  I say that in the most positive sense, but itís certainly a dynamic thatís played out throughout the year.Ē

 

WHAT DO YOU TAKE AWAY FROM THESE PAST FEW XFINITY SEASONS?   ďI think more than any other race series, and there are a few reasons why and Iíll touch on them. Iíve grown more in the XFINITY Series as a driver than I have anywhere else for a couple reasons.  One, I feel like I got to the XFINITY Series probably a lot earlier than I should have and that as a race car driver is the definition of being a race car driver.  You donít really get to pick and choose your opportunities and when you move up, and I certainly felt like I learned quite a lot in 2018, my first year bouncing back and forth between different race teams, different race cars, different personnel.  Thatís always a challenge, but when youíre trying to figure out a car at a higher level and a competitive level itís certainly challenging, but if you look back through my career Iíve driven quite a lot of different race cars and different things and havenít really stayed in the same thing for a whole lot of time, even from racing Bandoleros and Legends cars.  So this is the longest Iíve ever stayed in the same race series, the same race car, really being able to kind of perfect my craft and work on small details and refine those.  I feel like thatís what it takes to be at the top level.  Thatís what it takes to be the best of the best.  Itís being able to refine those small details and to have the opportunity to do that with Team Penske and Roger being able to stick by us and push this program forward and let me get the most experience that Iíve had, I think itís certainly made me as ready as I probably could be to go race in the Cup Series.  I think for those reasons racing in the XFINITY Series has certainly made me a better driver.  I definitely have a lot more that I want to fight for for the next couple of weeks and looking forward to doing that.Ē

 

DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE TO ALWAYS BE ON TOP OF YOUR GAME AND GET AS MANY POINTS AS POSSIBLE TO SUCCEED IN THIS PLAYOFF FORMAT?  ďYeah, I certainly think so.  Like you said, this round is certainly the wild card round as far as racetracks go, but, to your point, I have not left Kansas in a playoff race without a destroyed race car.  I know itís a round away, but Iím already worried about Kansas.  Iíll sleep with one eye open, I guess.  Itís certainly a challenge and I think for us as a race team the mile-and-a-half racetracks have actually probably been our weakness if weíve had one this season, so Vegas being probably the one racetrack thatís probably the most normal and being able to control your destiny and all that.  I think at that point, for us, itís certainly a gauge for how weíve improved throughout the year.  I think the Roval is probably the most straight-up race as far as predicting and controlling our destiny, and then Talladega is certainly the wild card.  I think overall our superspeedway program has been really strong this year and I feel like I really understand the package with this car and Iím excited to hopefully be able to have that play out.  I think Riley Herbst and I have really grown a relationship throughout the year, especially on these types of racetracks, and I think itís all been in a build-up to this playoff race in Talladega ó as well as Ryan Sieg.  Obviously, theyíre not in the playoffs, but I certainly expect to work with them again as the Fords usually do, so Iím looking forward to that and looking forward to a whole season worth of work paying off ó not just on the mile-and-a-halves, but at Talladega.Ē

 

RILEY HERBST, No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang ó TONY STEWART FEELS YOUíRE GOING TO FLIP A SWITCH SOON AND START WINNING A LOT OF RACES.  HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL WHEN THE OWNER IS SO MUCH IN YOUR CORNER?  ďFirst off, itís good that he said that, but, second, I donít think heís have me drive his race car if he didnít think I could win and produce and ultimately get him checkered flags or trophies.  Hopefully, we can get him a trophy this weekend and lock ourselves into the Round of 8, but I think itís soon and I think itís around the corner.  Once we do get that trophy coming, I think thereís gonna be a lot more on the way.Ē

 

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO TO FLIP THAT SWITCH AND CHALLENGE MORE FOR WINS, AND DO YOU VIEW THE PLAYOFFS AS A SECOND CHANCE ON THE SEASON?  ďI donít think itís really a second chance at all.  I think we have to execute from my standpoint behind the steering wheel, no mistakes on pit road, stop kind of trying too hard and being a little bit too eager and driving too aggressively, and getting into incidents or wrecks.  Honestly, I think our last month of finishes has kind of trended in that direction.  Back-to-back top fives is a lot better off than I was last year going into the playoffs, so I think weíre in a good mode right now.Ē

 

DO YOU HAVE TO TEMPER YOURSELF AS FAR AS GETTING OUT OF THE ROUND VERSUS POTENTIALLY WINNING RACES?  ďYes and no.  I feel like if you have a consistent first round and finish in the top 10 in all three races, youíre gonna move onto the Round of 8 fairly easily just because I think once the playoffs start people and things start to unwind and people kind of lose their mindset.  You saw that at Darlington in the Cup Series and Gateway in the Truck Series.  If youíre not one of those drivers and you have a clean first round, I think youíll transfer pretty easily, but I also think that when youíre in the Round of 8 youíre gonna have to win to go to the final four, but with that being said Iíd rather have a must-win scenario in the Round of 8 than the Round of 12 just because thereís two mile-and-a-halves and I would argue thatís been the best pace weíve had all year is on the mile-and-a-halves, so having Kansas and Texas being in the Round of 8 is probably a good thing for us.Ē

 

WHERE WAS THE TURNING POINT FOR THE TEAM THIS YEAR?  ďI think after the Glen we started to put better results on the table.  Also, I think a big turning point for ourselves as a whole was after Charlotte, although we didnít get the finish we probably deserved or wanted at Charlotte, but to be fastest in practice and to qualify on the pole by that big of a margin was a big morale booster for ourselves on the 98 team.  We talked about it a little earlier, but I donít think as much surprised these last few races to myself or the 98 team ó more a surprise to you guys, the media on the outside looking in just because we feel like weíve had this speed all year long we just havenít been able to capitalize and finish in those spots.Ē

 

WHERE DO YOU FEEL THE DIFFERENCE LIES IN YOUR TEAM THIS YEAR COMPARED TO LAST AT JGR?  ďI donít really remember what races it was before the playoffs last year, but I definitely donít think we had back-to-back top fives and four straight top 10s, so I think weíre in a better position that way with the momentum if you want to talk about it in that sense.  But I think Iíve become a better and more mature race car driver, at least Iíd like to think so, so hopefully we can use that, use my little experience that I have to try to push us into the Round of 8.Ē

 

ANY ADDED PRESSURE GOING TO VEGAS WITH THAT BEING YOUR HOME RACE?  ďHonestly, I approach it like any other race, but honestly itís a little bit more fun for me, a little bit more relaxed just to hang out with family and friends where I can kind of just let my guard down and then I get to go to the racetrack and have fun and go drive a race car and go try to win a race in front of my friends and family.Ē

 

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO REDEEM YOURSELF THIS YEAR IN THE PLAYOFFS AFTER LAST SEASON?  ďI donít really look at it from that sense at all.  The two years are widely different.  I can count on all my fingers how different they are from manufacturer to team to crew chief, from teammates to no teammates.  I think this new year is a new year by itself and I think we need to capitalize on this year.  We have a really good opportunity this week at Las Vegas to show that we belong and show that weíve got really good speed and weíve had it all year, and weíre ready to win races.Ē

 

HOW DOES NOT HAVING TEAMMATES CHANGE THE WAY YOU GO ABOUT THINGS?  ďWith that being said, I think the only big hindrance where that hurts us is kind of the plate tracks, but honestly with no practice or qualifying at each race weekend, youíre kind of on your own so you donít really have teammates to bounce things off anyways after or before practice.  If I do have questions, I can go to any one of my Cup teammates, Harvick, Aric, Chase or Custer and theyíll be happy to help me and they have this year and I think itís helped me a lot.Ē

 

WHAT WAS YOUR MINDSET ON THE FINAL LAP AT BRISTOL LAST WEEK WITH WHAT WAS GOING ON RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU?  ďIt was kind of hectic.  I definitely, obviously nobody can predict the future, but I definitely knew something was gonna happen between the 22 and the 16 just because the regular season championship was on the line and 15 points are pretty big, so all heck was gonna break loose between those two and I just needed to be there to capitalize and I feel like if I would have cleared the 7 out of turn two a little bit earlier and didnít get drove to the apron, I feel like we would have had a better shot to pass them or at least get second.  Who knows honestly what would have happened, but it was a pretty hectic finish and it was cool that the fans enjoyed it.Ē

 

HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO WATCH A REPLAY OF THAT FINISH?  ďYeah, we had an in-car camera.  I had the helmet cam, so I watched that quite a bit to see if I could have done anything different getting up through the gears or going through the first lap or anything like that, but I was definitely pretty much on the edge of my seat watching it and reliving what happened.Ē

 

HOW ABOUT FROM THE TV BROADCAST?  ďYeah, Iíve seen those angles quite a bit as well and I feel like we did a good job of closing the gap to the front two or three and, like I said,  me and the 7 just got tangled up.  In hindsight, I wish we didnít and maybe we could have been closer to those two before they made contact and kind of stole one there, but it is what it is.  Itís over.  It was cool to get a third-place finish at Bristol, but you want to win and now weíre in the playoffs and looking forward to Las Vegas.Ē

 


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