The NASCAR Cup Series season started with three drives battling for Rookie of the Year honors. Now that the schedule has turned the playoffs, only one remains. Austin Cindric has locked up the prestigious award.
The driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford Mustang entered the Daytona International Speedway weekend with a decisive lead over Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton. Per Racer’s Kelly Crandall, he sat at 580 points while Burton was at 395. Gilliland sat in third with 374.
Cindric proceeded to add to his total by turning in a third-place finish behind Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick. Cindric then ended his first full regular season as the only rookie to reach the playoffs, which guaranteed that he would walk away with the award. Though NASCAR won’t formally announce this until the annual banquet this winter.
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Cindric Kept the Ford Performance Streak Alive
With Cindric already locking up the Rookie of the Year award, he keeps a streak alive for a prominent manufacturer. Ford Performance drivers have now won the award three years in a row.
A pair of Chevrolet drivers — William Byron and Daniel Hemric — won Rookie of the Year in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Two Ford teammates then went back-to-back in 2020 and 2021.
Cole Custer secured Rookie of the Year for Stewart-Haas Racing after winning at Kentucky Speedway and reaching the playoffs. Chase Briscoe then spent the 2021 season battling with Anthony Alfredo before ultimately delivering another trophy to SHR.
Cindric will keep this streak alive while joining a limited list of Team Penske drivers to win Rookie of the Year in the Cup Series. This also includes Ryan Newman, who won in 2002 for The Captain after posting 22 top-10 finishes, 14, top-fives, and one win.
Cindric’s Focus Remains on a Different Trophy
Securing Rookie of the Year honors adds to an already successful season for Cindric. However, this trophy was not the ultimate prize that he set out to capture while driving the No. 2 Ford Mustang.
Cindric’s goal continues to be reaching the championship four and battling for the Bill France Cup. He will have nice races to fight for points and put himself in the finale, starting with the Round of 16-opening event at Darlington Raceway.
Cindric will not have an easy path to the championship four. He will enter the playoffs as the 14th seed with 2,006 points after NASCAR reset the leaderboard. This puts him automatically below the cutline with Austin Dillon, Alex Bowman, and Daniel Suarez.
Adding to the difficulty is the opening round schedule. The Round of 16 starts at Darlington Raceway, a track where Cindric finished 18th in May. It continues at Kansas Speedway where he finished 11th during the first trip.
The cutoff race takes place at Bristol Motor Speedway, which will be a complete unknown for the drivers. Cindric’s last start at the short track resulted in a 16th-place finish, but this race took place on the dirt. The Cup Series drivers have not taken on the normal version of BMS in the Next Gen era.