Austin Cindric celebrates a win at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Austin Cindric: '10th is not good enough' for Team Penske

Austin Cindric has won two Cup Series races since taking over the No. 2 Ford Mustang. He's put himself in the playoffs twice, but this is a far cry from where he knows he needs to be.

An occasional win and a string of top-10 finishes are not what Team Penske requires.

"I don't want to find myself in a position to be okay with 10th and be, 'Okay, hey, I finished in the top 10. That's an awesome day,'" Cindric said after winning Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway.

"No! that's 10th. Like, that's good, it's a step forward, but it's not where I want to be. It's not the level in which I prepare. It's not the level in which my team expects to perform. ...That's not good enough to drive at Team Penske."

MORE: Austin Cindric wins for Team Penske at WWT Raceway

This seems to be a bold claim, but Team Penske expects to win championships across multiple racing series. In the last two seasons alone, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano have won Cup championships and multiple races while Cindric gained experience in the Cup car.

Simply running well is not good enough for the organization or team owner Roger Penske.

"The culture that's in our building is we're supposed to win," Logano said during the NASCAR Awards last November. "That's how we feel. And when you don't (win), that feels like a huge burden, a huge failure.

"...When you show up in the door there, you see all the trophies, you see all the stuff you're supposed to win."

Cindric moved up to the Cup Series in 2022 after winning the 2020 Xfinity championship and finishing second in the 2021 championship standings. He replaced Brad Keselowski in the No. 2 Ford Mustang, a substantial task considering that Keselowski won a Cup championship and 34 races in the entry.

Cindric's rookie season got off to a fast start. He won the 2022 Daytona 500, a crown jewel race, and put himself in the playoffs for the first time. He went on to finish 12th in the championship standings while winning Rookie of the Year.

Since that opening win, however, Cindric has not performed at the level he expects. He went winless in the 85 races following the 2022 Daytona 500. He missed the playoffs in 2023 and ended the season 24th in points after only posting one top-five finish and five top-10s.

Cindric entered Sunday's race at World Wide Technology Raceway 20th in the Cup standings with only one top-10 finish -- fourth at Atlanta Motor Speedway in February. Pointing his way into the playoffs was highly unlikely with only 12 races remaining in the regular season.

"This isn't fun if I'm not winning," Cindric said. "So as you can imagine, it's not been very fun for a little while."

Cindric needed the best performance of his career to turn his season around and settle down potential discussions about being on the hot seat, especially with multiple drivers from Stewart-Haas Racing seeking jobs for next season as the organization prepares to shut down.

Cindric did exactly what he needed at the 1.25-mile track located outside of St. Louis. He started second, his best qualifying effort of the season. He led a career-high 53 laps and scored 16 stage points. Cindric moved to 18th in the Cup standings and secured the all-important win that guarantees a spot in the playoffs.

Now that Cindric has won a race, he can simply focus on setting himself up for the start of the playoffs at Atlanta in September. Granted, he will still try to win races and strengthen his position in the Cup standings.

He will also have the opportunity to work on different strategies with his team and crew chief Brian Wilson -- the man with whom he won an Xfinity title -- while trying to meet the Team Penske standard.

"How many positions can I gain with the guys that are in the playoffs as far as getting those playoff points at the end of the regular season? I think that's the topic of conversation," Cindric said.

"...It makes some of those decisions a bit easier, to throw some Hail Marys, but past that, I mean, we've still got to get better. I mean, it's no secret that this is the first win as a company this season. So we've still got to be able to go out there and put numbers on the board and continue to grow."