NASCAR at Dover notebook: Rookie Cindric aims for sunny fortunes in truck race

DOVER — Austin Cindric, a rookie in the Camping World Truck Series, had one unforgettable day — and night — a couple of weeks ago.

Not only did he graduate from the Cannon School in Concord, North Carolina, the morning of May 19, he then raced in the NC Education Lottery 200 Truck Series race that night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he finished 13th.

That made the 18-year-old the first truck competitor to graduate from high school and race on the same day. To top it all off, it was also his mother’s birthday.

Cindric hopes June will hold more exciting things, beginning with today’s Bar Harbor 200 Truck Series event at Dover International Speedway, which is set to start at 5:30 p.m.

Dover was a disappointment for Cindric last year as qualifying was rained out and he failed to make the starting field.

Austin Cindric prepares to run the Monster Mile Thursday afternoon at Dover International Speedway for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice runs. (Special to the Delaware State News/Jon Lloyd Jr.)

“I know we got rained out in qualifying but I left there on a high note with my head held high,” he said. “It was really unfortunate because there’s so much that goes into making a race weekend like that possible.

Austin Cindric, left, talks with fellow driver Chase Briscoe Thursday afternoon at Dover International Speedway.

“Dover is a concrete racetrack and concrete racetracks dry very, very quickly, so I never gave up hope until somebody wearing a NASCAR shirt came up and told me that we weren’t going to be able to qualify.”

Cindric, who drives the No. 19 truck owned by Monster Energy NASCAR Cup driver Brad Keselowski, learned some valuable lessons during practice at Dover last year that he hopes will help him earn his Monster Mile diploma today.

“(Last year) I stood down in Turn 1 at the start of first practice and watched for a little while, to see what I was really up against, because I had never been here before,” Cindric said. “It’s an intimidating place, especially in the truck, because you’re carrying a ton of corner speed.

Austin Cindric crosses the start/finish line.

“You’re committed to full throttle way before you can see the exit of the corner. The exits of the turns are really narrow and the banking falls away when you get to the outside wall, so every lap you’re counter-steering toward the wall and sliding off the corners.”

Who’s the favorite? Start with Johnson

The list always begins with Jimmie Johnson when discussing the favorites to win a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway.

It’s no different for Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism.

Johnson is back at his home away from home this weekend — Dover — where he has produced a track-record 10 Cup Series wins.

Crews begin to unload the trucks Thursday afternoon.

“Dover is my favorite track on the circuit,” said Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s-sponsored Chevrolet. “I get asked all the time why, and it really just suits my driving style and off-road racing background.

“It’s been a while since we’ve put the Lowe’s Chevy in victory lane there so it would be nice to make it win number 11 this weekend.”

Cody Coughlin crosses the start/finish line.

Johnson, a seven-time Cup Series champion, has 15 top-fives, 21 top-10s and a 9.5 average finish during his career at Dover’s high-banked, one-mile oval.

If Johnson wins on Sunday, he will join NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip as the only three Cup Series drivers to win 11 or more races at a single track — Petty has done it four times (Martinsville 15, North Wilkesboro 15, Richmond 13 and Rockingham 11). Waltrip has done it twice (Bristol 12 and Martinsville 11).

Johnson currently sits eighth in the Monster Energy Series points standings, 132 points below leader Martin Truex Jr.

Johnson, Truex and Brad Keselowski lead the series with two wins each this season.

Smith subbing for Almirola again

Regan Smith, who filled in for the injured Aric Almirola at Charlotte Motor Speedway last weekend, will again drive the No. 43 Ford in the Monster Energy Series race this weekend at Dover.

Todd Gilliland enters pit row.

Almirola said he expects to miss 8-12 weeks of action while recovering from a fracture of his T5 vertebrae suffered in an accident at Kansas Speedway on May 13.

Smith finished 22nd in the Coca-Cola 600 in his first substitute role last Sunday.

He won an Xfinity Series race at Dover in 2015. However, in 12 Monster Energy Series starts at the Monster Mile his best finish has been 17th.

“I keep saying it, but I’m honored to drive the No. 43 Ford for Richard (Petty) and his team,” Smith said. “I think we learned a lot at Charlotte and work together well. I’m looking forward to this weekend. I really like Dover.

“My last win in NASCAR was at Dover, so I’m really looking forward to getting back there in the Monster Energy Series this weekend.”

Busy day at the Monster Mile

Today is the busiest day of a NASCAR tripleheader weekend at Dover International Speedway as drivers in all three touring series — Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Trucks) — will be on track at one time or another.

The day will be highlighted by Monster Energy Series qualifying at 3:50 p.m. to set the starting lineup for Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism race, followed by the Bar Harbor 200 Camping World Truck Series race, set to take the green flag at 5:30 p.m.

The morning will feature alternating practice sessions for the Monster Energy and Xfinity drivers, beginning at 9:30.

Several Truck Series drivers took advantage of an opportunity to get some pointers from Kyle Busch recently. Busch has two Cup victories, five Xfinity wins and four Truck Series triumphs at the Monster Mile.

“We had a meeting after Charlotte and several of us rookies were bouncing questions off of him,” driver Noah Gragson said, about Busch. “He told us track position is key because it’s really hard to pass there. Being able to lean on Kyle is very valuable and he certainly knows his way around Dover.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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