Team Penske’s Austin Cindric made NASCAR history on Sunday, February 20, when he became the first rookie to win the Daytona 500. Cindric had one of the best cars in the field, but he also received some critical help from a teammate.
Ryan Blaney, the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford, gave Cindric a huge push on the final restart that put the No. 2 at the front of the pack heading toward the checkered flag. 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace fought and made a move late and nearly won his first 500, but Cindric held on while crossing the line.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say thank you to Ryan,” said Jeremy Bullins, Cindric’s crew chief, during his post-race media availability. “That’s a hell of a teammate. That’s a — I’ve been here with him and felt like we were going to win with him, and I can’t thank him enough for being that good of a teammate because we probably don’t win that race without him.”
ALL the latest NASCAR news straight to your inbox! Subscribe to the Heavy on NASCAR newsletter here!
“It’s the whole thing. I’ll be honest with you,” Bullins continued. “You see at the speedways, we saw the [Joe Gibbs Racing] guys do it a lot and the inside guy lets the outside guy in, and that’s just part of this kind of racing. That’s part of how it plays out.
“To be honest, I never even considered asking for that when we were the leader. I thought green-white-checkered we’re just going to race for it and see what happens here. It was Ryan’s idea. Like I said, hell of a teammate. I mean, the guy is awesome. Then to know you’ve got somebody back there that you can trust pushing you, he kept us out front, no doubt.”
Cindric Had High Praise for His Teammate
Bullins was not the only person talking about Blaney’s role in the victory. Team owner Roger Penske noted the type of person that Blaney is and explained how he has become a leader in the organization. Cindric made similar comments when discussing his teammate and their first race together.
“I have a lot of respect for Ryan and kind of the leader that he’s turned into for our race team,” Cindric told media members after his win. “I don’t think it’s because of [Brad Keselowski]’s departure. I think even last year you saw it. Ryan was probably our strongest guy every weekend. So I have a lot of respect for Ryan and the driver that he’s kind of become over the last couple of years.”
Cindric continued and explained that Blaney “has been the glue” to the Team Penske superspeedway program despite working on a weekly basis with Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, who are both champions with numerous wins at superspeedways.
Cindric Has Put in the Work to Succeed
While Blaney played a pivotal role in the win, it would not have happened without considerable effort on Cindric’s part. The 23-year-old has put in extensive work trying to learn how to become a better superspeedway racer after years of focusing on road courses and sports cars.
“I think speedway racing and running the high line are the two biggest things that I had to learn being a NASCAR driver coming from a completely foreign background,” Cindric said. “So for me, those were two things I’ve worked at quite a lot, and I think it’s a mental game on the speedways. But it’s also a very social game, and I wouldn’t say I’m a social person.”
To emphasize his point about putting in work, Cindric referenced an incident from the 2018 season. He said that someone could have picked him up from the infield care center after a crash during his rookie season and told him that he would win the Daytona 500. He would not have believed them.
“The driver that spun in front of the entire Xfinity field on like Lap 6? Probably not,” Cindric said. “Probably not. You probably couldn’t have picked me up from the care center and said, ‘you’re gonna win a Daytona 500 one day.’ I probably would have said, ‘bulls***.’ But we’ve come a long way since then.”