An Interview With: ROGER PENSKE & TIM CINDRIC
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by our championship winning team owner. Thank you for joining us, Roger. And we’re also joined by Tim Cindric, Team Penske’s president. We’ll get right into questions.
Q. Can you tell me how you’ve seen Austin get better and improve over these last couple years? Obviously this season since midsummer he seems like almost a different driver. How has he gotten better?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think all these young guys kind of hit a certain stage and maybe they’re flat out for a while, but 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, and 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. And 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 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.
Q. Roger, obviously with Austin’s relationship with Tim, there’s always been talk of like does he automatically have a ride there, and I’m curious if you think this championship kind of helps either his confidence or just the way people look at him and his ability?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I’ll tell you one thing, Tim has kind of stayed out of it. The discussion that we have about Austin and his future is really Mike Nelson, certainly, and Travis Geisler because Tim is in a tough spot. As you know, what I hold him for what he’s done for our team not only in NASCAR but in the INDYCAR side, 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.
I don’t think he leaned on me at all in order to make this decision. 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.
Q. TC, this goes off the topic that Roger just talked about. When Austin got out of the car he said he wasn’t very good when he first started racing, but he said it’s about the hard work; it’s not about where you start, it’s figuring out how to keep going along the way. Do you feel like Austin feels like he has to prove himself to come out from under your name?
TIM CINDRIC: Well, I think every driver has to prove himself. For him I’ve always told him that what he needs to do is earn the respect of those that know him, those that are around him and those that are in the team, and if he can earn the respect of the guys that work on that car every day, then you’ll start to earn the respect of everybody else. But the first thing you have to do is earn the respect of the people around him.
Yeah, I guess the proudest thing I’ve been isn’t really his successes on the track but the way he’s handled himself otherwise, and I think when you see the support that he’s had, not just from the Penske organization, which I can’t thank everybody enough within our team because it’s a tough deal to be the boss’s kid working on his car, whatever else, and as Roger said, I’ve tried to be the parent that steps back and lets that thing develop itself, and if he deserves an opportunity, hopefully he’s within our organization.
What I’ve always been most proud of, and I see it on my phone blowing up, is all the people that he’s raced with, and when you look at all the different series he’s raced and all the different teams he’s raced for, those are the people that know him the best. From the outside, he’s got very thick skin. He’s known that it’s going to be a tough road.
I told him from the very beginning when he was 10 years old that this really wasn’t the road I wanted him to take. He’s been able to do that obviously with the support of people like Roger, and the Ford group has really, really stepped up for him all the way back to the Mustang days when Jamie Allison helped him get his first ride at Road Atlanta in kind of a mid pack Mustang, and it was that race really that put him on the map to go forward with the Ford group.
Yeah, it’s something that he’s always kind of had a double standard and he always will, but I think he’s already accepted that.
Q. Does it feel any different when it’s your kid winning it?
TIM CINDRIC: Yeah, without a doubt. Without a doubt. It probably hasn’t soaked in yet. I remember when he won his first race for Roger, it was such a big deal in my mind that he could always say that he had a chance to drive for Roger Penske, and I think every driver that’s ever had that opportunity has made that same comment, and when it’s your son, it’s even that much more special.
But to see him make his way up through and he’s always had speed in whatever it is. This isn’t where he was from. He didn’t come up (inaudible) open wheel and short track ranks, so he’s had to really apply himself and surround himself with really good people, and tonight he took advantage of that opportunity.
Q. Tim, on the same subject, we’ve talked about this in the past, but I just wondered this season what did you see Austin has had success in his stock car racing career, but he really seemed to come into his own this season. In fact, most people would probably be after the fact shocked to learn he won his first oval track race this year, then he wins the championship. What have you seen in him this year that maybe has separated this season from the previous ones?
TIM CINDRIC: Well, I think it’s really a culmination of all the learnings. When you look at what he learned I tell him you’re going to learn as much from a bad day as you’re going to learn from a good day. You’ll probably learn more. And he spent half the season in the 60 car and that was a struggle for everybody that drove that car, but it was a huge opportunity for him to be a part of that team and outside of our fence, if you will, and get to know guys like Jack Roush and the guys over there, Steve Newmark and the ones that supported him there even though his last name was the same as mine.
Then last year was really the first year of any continuity where he’s been in the same series year after year because I’ve always encouraged him to take advantage of whatever is the most difficult thing. You don’t need to worry about trophy years because all those years as a kid, nobody at my level really looks at how many trophies you won in legends or those type of things. You need to go challenge yourself the most you can, and a lot of people don’t realize this is the first time he’s ever driven for the same team in the same car two years in a row full season, and that continuity combined with his work ethic and the guys around him.
Coleman Pressley, Brad’s spotter, really took him under his wings and showed him really the right way to prepare for a race, and Austin absorbed that. He’s a sponge. He’s always been somebody that whether it’s academically or from a personality standpoint or whatever else. A lot of people don’t know him, and they just make their own conclusions, but he’s a kid that has got a huge heart but he’s got a lot of determination, and I think you’re seeing a culmination of all those things this year come together, and this is the result.
Q. I know you’ve mentioned this before, but you just said it a little bit ago again about how and I think your wife, too, had kind of tried to dissuade Austin from heading in this direction. What was your reasoning behind that?
TIM CINDRIC: I just know I’ve lived it all my life. I’ve never had another job. I’ve never had a real job I call it. I’ve only been in the racing industry and I’ve seen how difficult it is, whether you have the backing everybody in the sport has to have some kind of backing. These race cars aren’t free, and I told him when he was in high school that we’ve been able to help him to a certain amount, and there’s a lot of people that don’t believe this, but I said to him that you’re going to have to go to college and do your thing or you’re going to have to find your own way up in the racing world. There’s not a parachute for you from your mom and dad.
He figured out how to work that through, and like I said, the Ford guys really supported him from the beginning, and Roger was very supportive of who he was and gave him an opportunity really because of not what his last name was, but he’s known Roger since he was one year old. You have to remember that the rest of us all meet Roger sometime in life and are pretty intimidated by me included. I’ve worked for him for 21 years and he’s still Mr. Penske to me.
I look at it and I see it through his eyes and through his eyes it’s normal. What’s around him is normal. There’s nothing intimidating, and Roger taught him how to shake hands, he taught him a lot of things along the way, and he knew who he was and obviously gave him the opportunity to try and show what he could do.
Yeah, from my side the first thing when he said he wanted to try and become a professional race car driver at 10 years old, I looked at him and told him he was going to be too tall to be a race car driver, thinking that would end it right there, and he said, That’s not true; Michael Waltrip is taller than you, Dad. If he’s successful, I can be successful. That’s where it all started.
Q. Austin had mentioned before this race that he wanted to do more than just run road courses in Cup next year, and I’m wondering kind of how many Cup races you expect him to be in, and then what else does he need to do really to improve given this win tonight?
TIM CINDRIC: Well, I think it’s a good question, and I leave that really to, as Roger said, Michael Nelson and Travis Geisler. They’re the ones internally that have been guiding his career, and they’re the ones that I confide in with my opinions, and Jefferson has been there right along the way. My way of really helping Austin in a professional sense, I want to be his dad, I want to be the support system that he needs when he needs it on good days and bad days, and I’m fortunate that we’ve got really good people around him that I can talk to and at least give him my viewpoint, but if they don’t agree with how I see it, I have no problem with them directing him in the right way because that’s what we’ve set up and that’s the system we have.
But relative to races, I know Roger had mentioned that he asked Austin to come up to Detroit to talk to him about his future, and there’s a kid that gets on an airplane and flies there. He’s never been to we call it the mother ship, Penske headquarters, to sit down with Roger and Mark Rushbrook and sit down and talk about the future all by himself. He doesn’t have an agent, he doesn’t have anybody around him to really do that other than whatever advice Megan and I can give him with how to handle himself. When they talked to him about doing some Cup races next year and the assumption is still want to do road races because maybe that’s where he’ll succeed, maybe more so just because of his experience. But he understands that you don’t want to be specific to a road course driver; you have to have that balance, and to be successful you have to be able to win at places like Phoenix. We don’t race for the championship on a road course, we race for the championship on ovals. He’s known that he needs a balance of all that.
To answer your question, I know that they want to keep this rookie status for the next year, so it’s seven or less, and I think that’ll be determined later.
THE MODERATOR: Tim, thank you for taking the time to join us. Congratulations on the win for your son and your team.
Q. Mr. Penske, I was going to ask Tim this, but I think you could answer this, too. Tim has been a part of Team Penske for obviously over a decade. What was it like for you to watch him see his son win the title?
ROGER PENSKE: Obviously to be side by side with him and all of us know that he might be leading with 10 to go or 5 to go but something could happen, and sure it did here today.
But I think the most resounding thing for me and for Tim and I’m sure for Megan, he ran a clean race, a tough race, he raced the best in Xfinity and he won. I think we don’t even have to talk about it. I think internally because we’ve seen so many drivers come up through the organization and have success, knowing that he touched every button, every green button today and won the championship. To me just to be there to see that and see everybody in the suite just erupt there at the end, and of course there’s nothing like it, and that’s why we want to come back tomorrow and the next weekend and the next weekend and try to bring young people and drivers that represent our company, represent our brand, and obviously we get to build good young people like we have in the past.
I think we both said, hey, we put a check in the box this weekend, and certainly Megan was here, who’s been at every single race. When Tim has been off helping me, she’s been there helping her son, and I think this is a real family effort.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Roger, for taking the time to join us. Congratulations on your championship tonight, and we wish you the best of luck tomorrow.
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