By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
Sometimes, you can’t judge a driver by their average running position.
Austin Cindric, after starting fifth in Sunday’s Quaker State 400 from Atlanta Motor Speedway, struggled to stay competitive in the top 20 through most of the 260 laps. However, by the drop of the final rag following a last-lap crash up front, the No. 2 Team Penske Ford held the last step on the podium in third spot.
Now, how did that happen?
“It came to life,” Cindric said of the seemingly surprise result. “We had to do a little CPR there early, we were struggling pretty bad. I’m just proud of the effort from the guys on the No. 2 car, being able to make the right adjustments and get us out of a hole there.”
Battling extreme loose conditions early, the Daytona 500 champion lost precious track position and didn’t have the confidence to climb his way toward the front. Earning zero stage points, all the improvement showed its face in the final stage after avoiding accidents and nailing the race’s final three-lap dash.
Race Start: 😱😵😬
Race Finish: 💯🔥😎
Plenty to be proud of. Thanks to all the folks from @QuakerState who cheered us on today. Another installment of never giving up 👍🏻@Team_Penske / @MenardsRacing / @FordPerformance
— Austin Cindric (@AustinCindric) July 10, 2022
“We went from not being able to go full throttle by myself to being able to run close behind other guys wide-open,” he said of the adjustments. “I felt like we deserved to be up there by the end of the race after we established track position. It was a solid day. I wish we could have gotten the Quaker State Ford in Victory Lane in the Quaker State 400, but a top-three is pretty good.”
A top three is pretty good, particularly when it comes at the performance peak of his rookie season. Sunday marks the fourth straight top-10 finish for Cindric, who in the prior 14 races of 2022 only managed two top 10s. Additionally, it’s his sixth finish of 11th or better in the last seven races, spanning a wide variety of track surfaces.
Coming off a dramatic crash in the series’ first visit to Atlanta in March, the 23-year-old was happy to show improvement in Round No. 2.
“Well, I finished, that’s an improvement,” he joked. “I don’t know if it’s because I felt like our car was a little better or I ran more up front, but I definitely feel like the racing at least made more sense. Handling seemed to come into play and you could pick and choose your battles by how good you were versus just being stuck.
“I enjoyed today’s race more than I did the spring. I’m proud of that effort and proud of a top-three finish.”