Ford Performance NASCAR: Austin Cindric and Brian Wilson Transcript

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
NASCAR Cup Series (NCS)
Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Austin Cindric, driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang, has won four of the last five NASCAR XFINITY Series races and leads the point standings going into this weekend’s event at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course. He, along with crew chief Brian Wilson, were guests on today’s Ford Zoom call. Here is the full transcript:

AUSTIN CINDRIC, No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang – WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS AS YOU PREPARE FOR THE FIRST ROAD COURSE RACE AT DAYTONA? “Well, it’s funny because it kind of replaces a track that we won at last year, so, obviously there’s some apprehension to that. I wish we were able to go to Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio this year in the XFINITY Series, but obviously a lot of fun things to look forward to on the Daytona Road Course. I wouldn’t say it’s the most difficult track to understand and figure out. It’s got a couple of horseshoes and, not to downplay the weekend because there are definitely a lot of challenges between showing up and racing at a track that no one has any knowledge or data on, but at the same time hot conditions, I think that plays a role. Anytime you race in Florida in the middle of the day in the summertime it’s gonna be hot and humid, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s a fun challenge and hopefully we can rise to the occasion.”

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IF A DRIVER YOU DON’T KNOW COMES UP AND ASKS YOU WHAT THEY NEED TO KNOW, WHAT DO YOU TELL THEM WITHOUT GIVING AWAY EVERYTHING? “It’s hard to say because I can’t really give sound advice on a track with a car that I haven’t driven the two on, but as far as the Daytona Road Course goes I think the most time you can lose and gain is into turn one and the bus stop. Traditionally, that’s the case. Those are probably the two hardest sections. Everything else is kind of a horseshoe or a point and squirt type of corner. With the frontstretch chicane, obviously, that’s a different story. No one has done that. That’s never been raced on, so that’s new in general, but, overall, I think it’s pretty easy to out-drive yourself, but, at the same time, you’ve got a lot of margin for error in turn one and not a lot of margin for error in the bus stop, so you’re gonna have to pick-and-choose your battles as far as you’ve got to have the speed, but it’s a fairly straightforward racetrack past that.”

SINCE YOU ARE ON THE POLE DO YOU HAVE ANY EXTRA MARGIN FOR ERROR ON THAT FIRST LAP? “I’ve thought about it just kind of in general as we change our starting lineups, there’s been some times I’ve gotten a good draw and started up front and there have been plenty of times I’ve gotten a bad draw and had to start 12th or near the back of our group. So, it’s been interesting to see what you can learn and pick up. Yeah, you’ve got more risk starting further back and I’ve been fortunate to have some fast race cars, but I feel you can learn quicker the further back you start as far as where you have to pass people, where you can set that up, how your car is in compromised situations. You can learn that very quickly, whereas when you start up front you get a gap and have track position and have a better chance at scoring better stage points, but, overall, for me it’s a clean track in front and hopefully we can get a gap and I can learn as much as I can about my car and how to make ourselves and myself better throughout the first stage.”

WHERE IS YOUR CONFIDENCE LEVEL RIGHT NOW WITH THIS HOT STREAK? “To take a couple steps back, my career has really been about making myself as versative as possible between the different cars I’ve driven, different tracks I’ve driven on, so take a diverse schedule like NASCAR has between superspeedways, short tracks, road courses, mile-and-a-half tracks and to be able to say we have an opportunity to win on those types of racetracks at this point in the year, whatever track it may be, is a lot of fun. That’s what I’ve worked on. That’s what I feel like I’m good at as a driver. That’s where I feel I differentiate myself as a driver is to be able to apply that to NASCAR racing has been great to be able to do that and put numbers on the board while doing it, but it’s fun. It’s great for the team and it’s obviously important to be able to do that at this point in the year, trying to contend for the regular season championship and set ourselves up well for the playoffs.”

WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT YOUR TEAM TO BE ON THIS HOT STREAK WITH NO PRACTICE AND NO QUALIFYING? “It says a lot and I’ll brag about them until I’m blue in the face. I’ve got a great group of people around me. It was really awesome to win at Road America last weekend, not only just for me because I’ve wanted to win at that track for a long time, but for my crew guys. With alternative pitting, that’s my road crew who pit the car and for them to pit the car and win the race and be able to do all that, it was really special for those guys. I’ll brag on them and say that they’re the reason for my success because they are, so hopefully we continue that. Not having practice throughout the rest of the year is definitely a challenge, especially when you look at the final race, so, for us, we have to continue that hard work, whether that’s back at the shop or prep work with me and my crew chief and my engineer. I think that’s what it boils down to as far as being prepared and understanding and having a game plan. We did that before and I think the way things are these days it just highlights that strength.”

WHAT IS YOUR LEVEL OF OPTIMISM WITH THESE NEW ROAD COURSES? “I think the fans love seeing something different every weekend, whether if it’s us going to Talladega or Daytona, or going to a road course or going to a short track or going to a mile-and-a-half. There are a lot of great tracks on the schedule and I think the fans enjoy a variety in what they watch every week. I think NASCAR has picked up on that and I think the more road courses that have been added, I think that adds more to that variety. I think there’s a little bit to it. I think these car, the circle track racing, but at the same time the cars are capable of it and I think we can look forward to the future. It sounds like the cars will be even more capable on those types of tracks, so that’s exciting for me given that that’s probably more of a comfort level for me, but, at this point in my career, I’ve probably done more races on ovals in NASCAR than anything else, so I love all of it. Like I said before, I love the versatility in the schedule because it really highlights the strength in drivers and the strength in teams that are able to adapt and react. Like I said, I think that’s what makes it fun for the fans to watch.”

HOW FOCUSED ARE YOU ON THE REGULAR SEASON CHAMPIONSHIP? “I think that’s my number one focus. That’s been my number one focus since the start of the year. I’ve entered the playoffs with no playoff points, some playoff points and kind of been there in-between, but I’ve never had a lot of playoff points. Winning the regular season championship gives you the equivalent of three wins in playoff points, and that’s a big deal for me. That’s a big deal for our team to be able to approach the playoffs with a solid approach, so, for me, that’s the first box to be checked. I think we’re gonna have to be on our game from now until when the playoffs start to contend with the 98 for that because those guys have been on it this year as well. That’s exciting. That’s fun to know that you’re gonna have to be on the limit to be able to beat your competitors and that’s’ what makes it fun. There are definitely a lot of challenges still left and a lot of racetracks still left, but definitely that’s the number one goal.”

HOW MUCH DOES THE ADDITION OF THE CHICANE MESS UP YOUR PREVIOUS FLOW WITH THAT TRACK? DO YOU NEED ONE OR TWO LAPS AND THEN GO ABOUT YOUR RACE? “Yeah, I hope I don’t just drive straight through NASCAR four onto the front straightaway. Hopefully I remember there’s a chicane there, but, overall, I do think it eliminates a better passing zone in turn one. Obviously, we did it for speed purposes and whatever purposed NASCAR needed to feel comfortable with going to this track without practice, but I really do feel like it adds the front straightaway more as an acceleration zone, instead of a straightaway. You usually get a lot of drafting opportunities down through NASCAR three and four onto the front straightaway, high-speed braking zone into turn one, you have more options to pass there and that’s probably the most legitimate passing zone. I don’t see the bus stop or the new chicane being much of a passing zone, so I think that makes the infield important as far as racing. At the same point, I feel like that’s an easy place to get into the back of somebody and not even try to, especially in our cars, so it’s gonna be dicey, I think, through there. I think it’s gonna be hard to get away from people, but it adds a new aspect to it. I feel like momentum is a gonna be more important than the Roval at Charlotte. I feel like there’s a lot of geometry similarities to the final complex at Charlotte, and you can kind of just drive it in as hard as you could, hit curbs as hard as you could, whereas it seems like this you’ve still got a pretty decent straightaway afterwards.”

IT SEEMS LIKE THE INN IS FULL ON THE CUP SIDE AT TEAM PENSKE WITH BRAD’S EXTENSION. ANY IDEA ON YOUR PLANS GOING FORWARD? “No, I don’t. My immediate goals are to do the best that I can to position ourselves for a championship run here. That’s what’s important and I’m happy to be part of that conversation right now. As far as my plans for 2021, nothing set. I don’t have a contract past this year, so I’ll continue to work hard on the weekends and work hard during the week to understand what the best pathway is to take me. Obviously, I’ve had a lot of loyalty within the Penske organization. I mean, I wouldn’t be at this point without them and without Ford Performance. Those two relationships have really brought me here as quickly as I’ve kind of come up through the NASCAR ranks, so I would love to be able to stay within that camp, but, at the same time, I’m focused on trying to figure out what the next steps are in my career in NASCAR because it’s where I want to be, it’s where I want to stay, and it’s where I’ve put the most effort in the last couple years, so I’m pretty motivated at that. I feel like I’m just like anyone else between I’ve heard Chase and Noah talk about it pretty vocally early on in the year and I’m not sure I’m any different from them as far as preparing for the future, so I’m working hard towards it and it’s nice to have some success while you’re doing it, but, I’ve definitely been working on that process for the last couple of months.”

BRAD AND RYAN CAME TOGETHER LAST WEEK AND IT SEEMS LIKE THERE ARE NO TEAM ORDERS AT PENSKE. HAS ANYBODY SAT WITH YOU ABOUT WHAT THE RULES ARE WHEN RACING A TEAMMATE? “I’m probably not the best person to ask just because I don’t have a teammate, but whenever the 12 car has run in XFINITY there is somewhat of an understanding that I’m running for points and those guys are obviously the senior drivers. They’ve generally raced me fairly for what I’m racing for, so it’s been different circumstances, but, overall, what you’ve seen over the last couple years those guys are the best at what they do and they race each other incredibly hard and generally incredibly fair. Obviously, it stinks to have two of our own cars take each other out, but that’s just hard racing. That’s the racing Michigan provides. You saw the same move go wrong in the truck race, so I think that’s just the racetrack and hard racing.”

HAVE THE WINS IN THE LAST MONTH INCREASED CONTACT FROM OTHER TEAMS, WHO HAVE SAID, ‘MAYBE HE’S AVAILABLE FOR NEXT YEAR?’ “I think everyone knows this, but we’re in a very interesting climate as far as teams and sponsorship and how the world works. I think we’re all just very happy and motivated to get to the end of the season. The fact that we’re all still racing right now is very important, but for me right now it makes a bigger challenge. At the beginning of this year there was a new car being introduced next season and now that has been postponed, and obviously economically it’s been very difficult for race teams. So, it makes those conversations a lot more difficult and a lot more non-comital, but at the same standpoint I think I’ve always approached it this way and it’s probably the first time in my NASCAR career that I’ve really had to go outside and understand what’s out there, just because I have been fortunate to be within the Penske camp and within the Ford camp. Every year I go try and find a Daytona 24 ride and usually it’s fairly last-minute and I understand that process, and understanding this process is good for me. By the same token, I have a great deal of loyalty to Ford and Penske and if I can do anything to stay within those camps, and I feel like that’s mutual, I think we’re gonna do it, but how difficult it is to work that, especially this day and age is the current challenge and, for me, I’m not doing myself any service if I don’t go out and understand what’s out there. The squeaky wheel gets the oil and that’s the case. You’ve got to pick up the phone and not expect it to ring, but having success while you’re doing that is great. It makes those conversations easier to have and easier to convince people that you’re the guy, but, overall, it’s what I’ve been doing during the week and I’m very focused on doing my job during the weekend first and foremost.”

THERE MAY BE A PERCEPTION THAT PENSKE WILL ALWAYS TAKE CARE OF YOU. IS THAT ACCURATE? “That’s definitely the perception and in some ways I have to fight that perception a little bit, but it’s great to have that backing that I’ve had the last couple years from the Penske group and from Ford Performance, but I know from experience and from observation, I’ve been around this sport for a long time, absolutely nothing is guaranteed, so my hard work is what I put first and foremost when I get up in the morning and I figure out what I need to do to make myself a better race car driver, whether if that’s next year or this year. That’s where my head has been at and I’ve had plenty to do, put it that way.”

BRIAN WILSON, Crew Chief, No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang – WHERE ARE YOU IN TERMS OF PREPARATION FOR THE ROAD COURSE RACE AT DAYTONA THIS WEEKEND? “It’s not gonna feel great until we make a lap on track and know what we’ve got. If I’m doing the math right on the new metrics for the starting position we should be up front, so we get to experience it before everyone else. But I’m gonna be nervous until we get to that point. I feel like we’ve done our homework and a lot of what this season has been about it taking educated guesses and that’s all we’re doing right now is making our best educated guess and being a little bit conservative on things and we’ll see where things stack up.”

ANY DIFFERENCE TRYING TO CALCULATE FUEL MILEAGE AT TRACK YOU’VE NEVER BEEN TO COMPARED TO WHAT YOU’VE BEEN DOING THE LAST FEW MONTHS AT TRACKS YOU’VE BEEN TO BEFORE BUT WITHOUT PRACTICE OR QUALIFYING? “Yeah, I think it’s the same as what we’re doing setup-wise is you assume it’s gonna be similar to other road courses that we’ve been at. We look at Watkins Glen because it’s that tire and we assume that the fall off is gonna be similar to that. Fall off can play a lot in what the fuel mileage does over the run, so we’re taking our best educated guess. I’m probably gonna say that a lot, but we really don’t know. (Connection broke up briefly) in a manner to where fuel mileage really isn’t gonna be that big of an issue, but we’ll get a good read in the first stage. Hopefully, we don’t have too many cautions and we can go from there.”

SO, WE WON’T SEE PEOPLE WORK THE RACE BACK BASED ON FUEL MILEAGE? “I don’t feel like we will. We’re in a pretty tight points battle, fortunately with another Ford, but we need to get as many points as we can. We’re focused on getting the 15 regular season bonus points, so, for right now, we’re planning on at least running to the first stage break and try to get as many points as we can and get a good read on the fuel mileage and go from there.”

HAVE YOU EVER HAD A RUN WHERE YOUR DRIVER HAS BEEN THIS HOT? “I don’t feel like we ever, even during this run, we don’t feel like if we don’t get a checkered that it’s a bad day. A couple weeks ago we finished second and that was a really good points day and we contended. I’m disappointed if we don’t feel like we’re contending for the win and I feel like that’s where this program should be. It was kind of expected when we had all of the Cup superstars in the car a few years ago and I was fortunate to do three in a row with those guys a few years ago, but it’s a different situation when you’ve got one of the regulars that’s battling for the championship and it’s a great place to be. I’m proud of it and proud of all the hard work for the past two or three years working with Austin, but I can’t say I’ve had a run like this with one driver consistently. Moving up the points as quickly as we did, I’ve never had a run like this, but I do think it’s what’s expected. That’s what we’re supposed to do with this program.”

WHAT KIND OF CONFIDENCE DOES IT GIVE YOU AND THE TEAM TO HAVE A DRIVER WHO CAN GO FAST TURNING RIGHT AND LEFT? “It gives everybody confidence. He’s able to give us areas to focus on and Austin obviously has a ton of experience, but this company has a lot of experience running races down there, so we can lean on people and we can draw from that wealth of knowledge and understand what we think we’re gonna have to work on. Using the Ford simulator has been huge. We were there last night, to be able to do a lot of laps and run some setups past Austin and having his feedback to know what’s realistic. I know everybody is gonna be working on the simulators, but he’s got that real world feel for, ‘Okay, what areas do I need to work on. What techniques can I use to try to get around some of the compromise?’ Because at a road course you’ve always got compromises in the setup and the driver being able to work around those or knowing what tools he can use to help in certain areas is huge. Having Austin is a huge benefit even if like last week, going to the racetrack where everyone’s got a lot of notes, having Austin who is very good at running road courses is a huge advantage. Now, from the seat that I’m in, that’s a lot of pressure because if you don’t run well and you don’t contend, it looks like I didn’t do my job. So, making sure that we’re dotting I’s and crossing the T’s and the pressure is all on me this weekend to make sure I give him something that he can run well with.”

WHAT HAS SURPRISED YOU THE MOST OVER THIS FOUR WINS IN FIVE RACE STRETCH? “I don’t want to sound cocky, but I feel like early on in the year we had the speed to contend for wins, and I felt like once we got one win we would get a couple. I did not expect that it would all be in a row or four out of five, so I think that’s probably the biggest thing is just how quickly they came. But, we had seen this building for a while within our team and it’s one of those things where it’s so subtle that you may not see it from the outside looking in, but we felt like the speed was building and we felt like Austin’s feedback was getting better. I wouldn’t say his feedback was getting better, but I feel like his feedback lined up with the changes that we were making were getting in line and he was starting to get happier with what the car was doing. We felt like if we just started executing some of these races that we would be able to win. We felt like we weren’t that far off from getting wins. Early in the year, we feel like we gave a few up. We were leading laps, so inside the program I don’t think it’s a surprise we’re winning races. I think we knew we could contend for that, it’s just how quickly it’s happened.”

WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN THE CHICANE WAS INTRODUCED? “I think from the car side of things it was a relief just because you know that if we would have ran the full NASCAR three and four, you knew the braking zone was gonna be pretty taxing on all the parts and pieces into turn one. And then when we started to look at it initially we were looking at what the gear ratio was gonna be and we knew that we were gonna have to have such a tall rear gear that it probably wouldn’t be good for the slow infield section, so I feel like just from a racing side of things it’s gonna be a better compromise to have a little bit more gear to get your through the infield. But I know from Austin’s side of thing he would have preferred to run on the track that’s got the most history. They’ve run a ton of races down there in the past and he was looking forward to running the normal track layout, but from the car side of things I think it was more of a relief to me to know that the brakes weren’t gonna be taxed and the gear wasn’t gonna be lugging in the infield. So, from my side of things, I was relieved.”

HOW WOULD YOU SAY AUSTIN HAS PROGRESSED IN NASCAR? “I think everybody has seen it. That’s one of the things about competing in NASCAR is every week you get to check up on where you are and how you compete. Early on, I’d say he would admit that he wasn’t where he wanted to be and it was a challenging year for him, but seeing the progress and seeing the work that he’s putting in behind the scenes has been great and I’m proud to be a part of seeing him get to this point where we’re contending every week. He does a lot of work as far as studying, studying the Cup races, studying our past races. He makes sure he takes notes on what he’s been doing and what he’s tried inside the car. He does a lot of debriefs to give us feedback on what we need to do better in the car, and I think what you’re seeing is just a product of all that homework that he’s done. That’s helped us build a notebook on what he needs to be able to give him the fast race cars that he can feel comfortable making the moves that he needs to to get the wins.”

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