Friday, 28 February 2020

NASCAR Xfinity Series: Can Austin Cindric challenge the ‘Big 3’? – Beyond the Flag

NASCAR Xfinity Series: Can Austin Cindric challenge the ‘Big 3’? – Beyond the Flag
13 Aug

With two consecutive victories, the first two victories of his NASCAR Xfinity Series career, can Austin Cindric challenge the “Big 3”?

Of the first 18 races on the 33-race 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule, 14 were won by full-time Xfinity Series drivers. Full-time Cup Series driver Kyle Busch collected three victories in four starts while Ross Chastain, who started the season as a full-time Xfinity Series driver before declaring for Truck Series points, won the July race at Daytona International Speedway.

Of the 14 races in this 18-race span that were won by full-time Xfinity Series, 13 were won by a group of three drivers that became known as the “Big 3”.

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell each earned five victories while Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick earned three. The only other driver who won any races was JR Motorsports’ Michael Annett, who won the season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

But after the “Big 3” collected 13 of the 14 victories earned by full-time drivers through the season’s first 18 races, three consecutive races have been won by full-time drivers other than Custer, Bell and Reddick.

Bell dominated the race at Iowa Speedway, but it was Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe who secured his first victory of the season.

Since then, the only driver who has gone to victory lane is Team Penske’s Austin Cindric.

Cindric entered the race at Watkins Glen International having never won a race in 53 career starts. He ended up winning this race, taking the pole position for the next race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and dominating that race to go from zero for 53 to two for 55 in an eight-day span.

Following a victory at his home track, can the 20-year-old Columbus, Ohio native challenge the “Big 3” for the championship?

Even in Cindric’s rookie season last year when he competed part-time for Roush Fenway Racing and Team Penske, it was clear that he was on the verge of breaking through. He finished in eighth place in the championship standings with seven top five finishes, 13 top 10 finishes and three pole positions after advancing to the round of 8 of the playoffs.

He dominated last year’s race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course as well, but he had to settle for second place, a career-high finish at the time.

Already this season, he has recorded eight top five finishes and 15 top 10 finishes to go along with two pole positions, and there are still 12 races remaining on the schedule. His average finish of 9.00 is the fourth best among full-time drivers, and he sits in fifth place in the championship standings with the fourth highest playoff point total of 11.

The fact that he has yet to win on an oval could certainly prove to make things difficult for him down the road, especially against the “Big 3” since all seven races on the playoff schedule are oval races.

In addition to the fact that Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was a track at which he had already had success entering the season, his lone Truck Series victory came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, another road course, in his first and only season as a full-time driver in the series two years ago.

But it isn’t like he has lacked good results on ovals. He did still manage to finish in third place in the 2017 Truck Series championship standings.

Earlier this season, Cindric tied his career-high finish with a second place finish in the race at Richmond Raceway. He has recorded six top five finishes and 12 top 10 finishes in oval races this year after closing out the 2018 season with three consecutive top five finishes.

Of course, the “Big 3” still have sizable advantages over Cindric in the oval races, and that will need to change for him to truly challenge them.

In oval races so far this season, Custer has recorded 11 top five finishes, Bell has recorded 12 top five finishes, 13 if you count his third place finish in the race at Chicagoland Speedway before he was disqualified, and Reddick has recorded 14 top five finishes.

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For Austin Cindric to truly compete with the “Big 3” and give them a run for their money throughout the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs and potentially in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he will need to improve in oval races and likely find at victory lane at least a couple of times.

But given how he has gotten the monkey off of his back over the last few weeks, even though he secured both of the first two victories of his career in road course races, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him do that in the near future as well.



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