Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: What Are Expectations for Austin Cindric After Gateway Win?

What more can we expect from Austin Cindric in both the regular season and playoffs?

Kevin Nix: Not much in the regular season, but he can surprise people come playoff time. The increased parity of the Next Gen era means that if a non-dominant team nails the setup for a race, the driver has a strong chance to win. World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway was the first time all year that Austin Cindric showed anything close to race-winning speed, and credit to him, he capitalized in the best way possible. That said, Cindric can easily make the Round of 12. Atlanta Motor Speedway is in the first round of the playoffs, as well as Watkins Glen International, and Cindric’s strengths as a driver are road courses and superspeedways. He’s not a first-round bust; instead, he is a dark horse pick to make the Round of 8.

James Krause: Not much. Even after his win, Cindric has just six top-20 finishes this season, the same as he had last season after Gateway. That said, he’s been good when Team Penske’s had the strongest cars at places like Atlanta or last week at Gateway. He was 20th in the points before his win, on the fringe of playoff cutline hopefuls. It’s fair to say he won’t contend for wins often, but he and crew chief Brian Wilson can do everything they can to accrue stage wins and gather bonus points. When playoffs come, don’t bet on him being in the final eight, maybe even the final 12.

Andrew Stoddard: The Ford stable has experienced a surge in performance over the past month or so. However, until last week’s win at Gateway, Cindric did not really partake in that uptick in speed, with three straight finishes of 20th or worse before his victory. The No. 2 team is just not consistent enough to rise to the tier of a championship contender. On the other hand, the early playoff rounds line up well for Cindric, with a superspeedway and road course each in the Round of 16 and Round of 12. Those are two track types that Cindric has raced well on in the past. With some positive momentum, Cindric could make a Cinderella run to the Round of 8.

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2-Headed Monster: Is the Kyle Busch Era Coming to a Close?

Nine drivers have won thus far in the NASCAR Cup Series regular season. With 11 races to go, how many more winners will we get?

Austin Bass: Of the winless drivers still searching for their first victory in 2024, I expected Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Ty Gibbs and Martin Truex Jr. to have won a race by now, so I will carry that expectation through the remainder of the regular season. There are several repaved surfaces and unique tracks on the schedule over the summer months that will create opportunities for more new winners to pop up. This list of drivers includes ringers like AJ Allmendinger, Shane van Gisbergen and a growing number of other international racers who could easily win on the upcoming road course and street circuit. Six more drivers will get a victory during the regular season.

Stoddard: There will be five more new winners in the regular season, with three making the playoffs on points. You may notice that the math in that last sentence doesn’t quite check out at first. That’s because van Gisbergen will repeat as the Chicago street course winner but is not eligible for the Cup playoffs.

Krause: Four more, at least. There are three guys — Truex, Chris Buescher and Blaney — due for a win between now and September. There’s another group with Ross Chastain, Gibbs and Bubba Wallace who haven’t contended for wins as much as the first trio but are on the cusp of finding a win with a few things going their way. Then there’s Logano and Kyle Busch, who even through their struggles I can’t count out one of them getting a win at some point with their experience. After those guys, who knows? Maybe Michael McDowell wins a road course race or we get a surprise winner at the superspeedways. With or without those, playoff spots on points will be sparse.

Who should drive for Front Row Motorsports in Cup in 2025?

Stoddard: We already know the fate of one car for 2025, with Todd Gilliland signing a multi-year extension with FRM. For the second, team owner Bob Jenkins will stay in the Ford family and put Noah Gragson in the seat. Gragson’s had bad luck holding a Gup ride, losing his spot with Legacy Motor Club midseason last year, and now Stewart-Haas Racing is shutting down at the end of this season. Gragson has more than earned a chance to stick around the Cup Series, and FRM’s flagship No. 34 especially has evolved into a quality ride over the past few years. As for the third, it will bring Cole Custer back to the Cup Series after a two-year absence.

Bass: Now that we know Gilliland will occupy one of its seats, another should go to our most recent race winner, Cindric. The pressure to perform at Team Penske in its flagship No. 2 car has to be immense, especially given his father’s role within the organization. A fresh start on an up-and-coming team within the Ford camp that recently began a technical alliance with Penske would be a perfect pairing. The other ride should go to Busch. With McDowell’s departure, the team lacks a senior driver, and Busch’s contract with Richard Childress Racing makes him available at just the right time. He seems to be running low on patience with the poor performances at RCR and doesn’t have many other options in the garage at this stage of his career. Now that FRM will become a key partner with Ford, it would be in his best interest to make the most of whatever it can offer.

Nix: Gilliland was the first and best pick; kudos to FRM for locking him down to a multi-year extension. Beyond him, Josh Berry and Gragson would be the best combination of teammates. Gragson is far outperforming his 2023 numbers, and Berry has improved greatly since the first month of the season. Poaching Berry could also mean getting Rodney Childers to stay as crew chief, and that continuity will give Berry the best chance of success. Gragson also has sponsorship from Bass Pro Shops that could carry over, and with FRM having tier-one support, he could easily win in 2025.

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Eyes on Xfinity: How High Is Shane van Gisbergen's Ceiling?

Has Shane van Gisbergen proven he is ready to race full time in Cup?

Krause: Van Gisbergen is established now as the best road course racer out of anyone in NASCAR in less than a calendar year, but everyone had the same question when full-time ride rumors started floating. What about the ovals? So far, he’s further ahead of schedule than I thought he’d be. His average finish on the ovals in the NASCAR Xfinity Series is 15.7 with only one finish worse than 22nd. In two Cup starts on ovals — Talladega Superspeedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway — he finished 28th both times. Don’t get it twisted, van Gisbergen is far from one of the 40 best oval drivers in NASCAR. In fact, there are probably a half dozen Xfinity drivers who, in a fair world and based on all-around skill, would get a Cup ride before him. That said, with the way the modern playoffs work, all he’d need is one win on a road course to get a seat at the table come the Round of 16. Knowing they’ve got a good shot at the playoffs is a great starting point for a team running a rookie. I wouldn’t fault a team for taking a shot on van Gisbergen in 2025.

Nix: Yes, with several factors working in his favor. First, with SHR ceasing operations at season’s end, the price of charters has decreased significantly due to (comparatively) high supply. Trackhouse Racing’s best shot at expansion is to acquire one of SHR’s charters ASAP, and van Gisbergen is the obvious pick for that third car. Second, while Zane Smith is also worthy of a Cup ride, his future right now is quite uncertain, and van Gisbergen has already proven he can win in Trackhouse equipment. Third, his attitude, even when in bad situations, is remarkable. He is always in high spirits regardless of what happens on the track, and that is something that statistics cannot measure. He has the right mindset to succeed, and that’s a majority of the battle. Van Gisbergen still needs more seasoning on ovals, but he has the rest of this season to go, plus any additional Xfinity starts in 2025. He could always run a companion race to get more track time for Cup the next day. The future of van Gisbergen is now, and Justin Marks is smart enough to strike while the iron is hot.

Bass: No, van Gisbergen has not proven he is ready for the entirety of the Cup Series. But at this stage in his career he never will, so his team might as well go ahead and feed him to the wolves. The 35-year-old driver is under contract with mediocre teams in Kaulig Racing and Trackhouse that are not of championship caliber, so it will be hard to showcase his full skillset against the best of the best. He is on the back nine of his competitive career, so the time is now if it is going to happen. As with previous ringers from other racing disciplines that have won in the Cup Series like Juan Pablo Montoya, Marcos Ambrose and Allmendinger, van Gisbergen would only be relevant a few times per year.

About the author

Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Richmond, and VCU. He works as an athletic communications specialist at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

Kevin Nix has been with Frontstretch since February 2023. Hailing from Gilbert, Arizona, his dream is to be in the NASCAR media sphere full-time. He is a video assistant, working on the back end to streamline video and audio quality of all at-track interviews. Nix also writes about news every Monday for the site.

Nix graduated with a Master's Degree in Sports Journalism from ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix, Arizona. He also has bachelor's degrees in Communications and Political Science. In his downtime, he likes to read, play video games and take walks in the Arizona weather - when it's not too hot.

James Krause joined Frontstretch in March 2024 as a contributor. Krause was born and raised in Illinois and graduated from Northern Illinois University. He currently works in La Crosse, Wisconsin as a local sports reporter, including local short track racing. Outside of racing, Krause loves to keep up with of football, music, anime and video games.

Austin Bass joined Frontstretch in 2024 as a contributor to combine his passion for racing and writing. Born in Wilson, NC, he developed a passion for racing at an early age while attending local short tracks on Saturday nights with his dad and watching the stars of the sport from their living room on Sunday afternoons.

Bass is a graduate of UNC-Wilmington with a degree in Communication Studies where he developed a deep understanding, appreciation, and love for the Oxford comma. He is an industrial degreaser salesman for Cox Industries whenever he is not writing or talking about racing.

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I don’t expect Cindric to do any better than he has in his whole career. Good thing he and the other Austin have family connections or they sure wouldn’t be driving cup.

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