AVONDALE, AZ — Roger Penske made a rather large offseason acquisition at this point a year ago. He bought out the Hulman-George family and all their remaining assets. He held onto the rights of most notably the NTT IndyCar Series as well as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That wasn’t a cheap purchase.
In the aftermath, Penske put in millions of his own money to update the famed facility on the west side of Indianapolis.
Throw in all of his other businesses around the world and you get a lot of money being spent. While he obviously had a lot of money coming in, his world was clearly disrupted by the emergence of COVID this past spring.
Penske, didn’t know what to do with the Xfinity program at that time. With so much money going out and no reason to believe any revenue would be coming in any time soon, do they shut it down?
“I think that interesting is we got into the COVID situation mid March, I went to Tim, I said, maybe because we don’t know what’s facing us, we might have to maybe shut down the Xfinity team for maybe a few races in order to see what’s going to happen,” Penske said on Saturday.
Good thing they didn’t.
Austin Cindric brought a championship to the team Saturday in Phoenix. He had a brilliant pit strategy in the end to take the lead on the final lap en route to his first career championship.
But, you have to go back to that March decision. Penske elected to keep the program running but Cindric knew then the pressure was on.
“I think that at that point we got together and said, hey, we’re going to go full bore, and I think Austin obviously knew that he had to show what he could do,” Penske continued.
Boy did he ever. Cindric finally got his first oval win in July. He won five times and had two runner ups in a seven race span this past summer. A championship dream was real.
Penske credits Cindric and the team for responding. He says that while Cindric’s dad Tim is a large part of Penske, this decision came down to how Penske feels about Austin Cindric.
“I think that his focus and really when you think about Brian Wilson and that whole 22 team, what they’ve been able to do, work together Austin is committed. He’s at the shop with those guys. He works with them. He’s focused.
“I think that I saw a young guy committed. I saw him come up the ladder in smaller cars, even open wheel cars and win, and I think that look, you love people and they’re in your family, and the people that work in Mooresville, that’s a big family, and he’s one that has earned it for himself. I think that look, if he didn’t get the job done, Tim would be the first one to say let’s move on.”
“This was a team decision to go forward certainly with Austin, a decision we made to have him make one more season.
“I had young Cindric come to my office in Detroit and we talked about it at length because the word was he would move into the 21, and when we sat down and talked about it, we knew the right thing was to make another year in Xfinity, and certainly I told him you need to leave this end of this season a champion, and that’s exactly what he’s done.
“This was not because of Tim Cindric, this was because of Austin Cindric.”
Penske wanted to be sure to give Cindric the equipment that he needed to win a title. It was up to Cindric to show what he can do with it. Six wins and 19 top fives in 33 starts shows that he can be brilliant in it.
“I think like any athlete, you get better. We’ve tried to give him good equipment. You could see today that he was flawless. Restart after restart, green white checkered at the end, he’s a pro, he’s a champion today, and I think that one more year in this series is going to prepare him to get into Cup, and I think you need that stairstep to get there.
With Menard’s a big sponsor and certainly Ford, we’ve got people that want to see him be a champion, and this is the first step, there’s no question. So I just think it’s really a part of learning and part of growing up.”
They’ll return together for 2021 before Cindric moving up to Cup full time in 2022.
Penske, believes in Cindric and Cindric repaid the support.