Team Penske’s Austin Cindric keeps it classy

AVONDALE, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 06: Austin Cindric, driver of the #22 CarShop Ford, looks on from the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 06, 2021 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

As Austin Cindric leaned against his No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang with fireworks going off behind him and Daniel Hemric celebrating a victory and NASCAR Xfinity Series championship in the distance, there was an unmistakable look of disappointment.

It was tough ending to the race for the 2020 series champion, who had five wins on the year and led a race best 113 laps Saturday night only to get edged out for the season trophy – in a door-to-door finish – by a slight .030-second.

“If everyone in the stands enjoyed it, it is good racing,” a visibly frustrated Cindric said. “I’m appreciative of the opportunity to race on such a big stage, race for Roger Penske, represent Ford Performance, all of our sponsors that helped us this season.

“It would have been awesome to finish this out. I felt like we had a dominant race car, felt like we did everything right. Came up a little short.

“Thankful for the opportunity,” he added, “Pissed to be second for like the third week in a row.”

The four championship contenders fought for the victory all evening long in the Xfinity Series Championship Race with Cindric and Hemric exchanging the lead and having to fend off Noah Gragson and Regular Season Champion A.J. Allmendinger. Ultimately Hemric took his first ever race trophy in the biggest race of the season.

Cindric and the veteran Allmendinger paced the series all year with five wins each – a nice encore to Cindric’s tremendous 2020 championship season. And it all has resulted in a move to NASCAR’s “prime time” for the popular 23-year-old, who will be driving the No. 2 Team Penske Ford fulltime next year in the NASCAR Cup Series –  following in the footsteps of a pair former Cup Series champions, NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace and 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski.