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Austin Cindric joins Robby Gordon as X Games medalists with NASCAR Cup wins

6 Mins read
Credit: Austin Cindric

When people think of the X Games, they probably do not picture NASCAR. After all, an oval-based pavement stock car series is not exactly the epitome of extreme sports.

That does not mean there is no overlap between the two. During the ten years that the X Games welcomed rallycross and the Stadium Super Trucks (2006 to 2015), which are known for their frenetic action on mixed-surface tracks that reflect the “extreme” mantra of the Games, various competitors have either arrived with NASCAR backgrounds or went on to race there.

Among the handful who competed in both the X Games and NASCAR, only two have won a medal in the former and a Cup Series race in the latter: Robby Gordon and now Austin Cindric.

On Sunday, Cindric began his Cup Series rookie year in the best possible way when he won the Daytona 500 for Team Penske. Besides becoming the first full-time rookie to take victory in the legendary race, it completed his rapid ascension through the world of stock car racing after spending his early career in a variety of disciplines like sports cars and rallycross.

As a 15-year-old in 2014, Cindric dabbled in the Global Rallycross Championship‘s Lites division with support from his father and Penske team president Tim Cindric. His début came in the Summer X Games at Circuit of the Americas, where he piloted the #77 GO PUCK/Nightrain entry to victory in his heat race and a third in the semi-final, the latter of which saw him collide with Átila Abreu as they worked to avoid NASCAR alumnus Nelson Piquet Jr.‘s spinning car, to advance to the final. Mitchell DeJong and Kevin Eriksson were the class of the field in the final while Cindric battled with Geoffrey Sykes for the final spot on the podium, an effort that swung in CIndric’s favour as he claimed the bronze medal.

After running six GRC Lites points races following the X Games (scoring a pair of podiums to finish the season), Cindric was elevated to a full schedule in 2015 with Olsbergs MSE, with whom he won four races and finished second in points behind team-mate Oliver Eriksson. The Lites did not return to the X Games, leaving him without a shot to win a second medal. He eventually began his transition to stock cars, but returned to rallycross in 2017 when he ran the Evergreen Speedway GRC weekend for Bryan Herta Rallysport. Despite never racing at the top-flight GRC and being roundly criticised for turning former NASCAR driver Scott Speed in the first race (a week after drawing ire for a similar incident in the Camping World Truck Series at Mosport), he finished fourth in the second for BHR’s best finish of the season. A year later, Cindric made another rallycross return at RallyX on Ice in Höljes, Sweden, where he won a heat race.

Nearly eight years after his X Games bronze, Cindric was an Xfinity Series champion and Daytona 500 winner. While he has not returned to rallycross since RallyX on Ice, he credits it with developing his driving skills for NASCAR; he quipped in a 2021 interview with DirtFish that he has “jumped a few NASCAR cars but not with the same result you would have in a rallycross car,” but added the physicality of rallycross taught him to “push the limits” in stock cars.

Credit: Stadium Super Trucks

While a teenaged Cindric was celebrating his GRC Lites bronze medal at the 2014 X Games, 45-year-old Gordon was doing the same with his for the Stadium Super Trucks. SST, a series founded by Gordon in 2013, was invited to the Games for 2014. After leading practice, an inversion of the quickest qualifiers placed him in fifth to start his heat race and he would finish in the position to qualify for the final. Gordon began the final in ninth and worked his way through the order while Justin Lofton, Apdaly Lopez, and Sheldon Creed dominated. Lofton, a one-time NASCAR Truck Series race winner, was spun on lap five to leave Lopez and Creed battling for the lead for the rest of the race. Behind them, Gordon’s climb continued before passing Jerett Brooks to enter podium range with three laps remaining. As Lopez drove off to win the gold with Creed in tow, Gordon held off Brooks to claim third.

SST returned for the 2015 Games, where Gordon was fifth in practice before winning his heat. He started fourth in the final, but the weekend was the Sheldon Creed Show as he won Fastest Qualifier and led every lap to win gold. Gordon bumped Kyle LeDuc aside on lap six to take second and tailed Creed for silver, making him a two-time X Games medalist.

Until Cindric’s Daytona 500 win, Gordon was the only driver to medal and win in the Cup Series. After sporadic competition at NASCAR’s top level for various teams throughout the 1990s as he primarily focused on IndyCar, Gordon won the 2001 season finale at New Hampshire as a part-time driver for Richard Childress Racing, which earned him a permanent seat with the team. In 2003, he swept the two road course races at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, the latter of which would be his final series victory. He departed RCR in 2005 to expand his own team Robby Gordon Motorsports into Cup, where he raced until 2012. In the decade since, he has focused on running SST—where he is a two-time champion—and his SPEED brand, as well as supporting his son Max‘s driving career.

While Cindric and Gordon are the only Cup winners to medal in the X Games, some medalists have visited Victory Lane in NASCAR’s lower series. Speed, one of the top American rallycross drivers today, won the rallycross gold three years in a row from 2013 (an international expansion of the X Games in Foz de Iguaçu, Brazil, rather than the main Games itself in Los Angeles) to 2015 while he scored his lone Truck Series victory in 2008 at Dover. Piquet, the 2014 bronze medalist, has a pair of Truck victories and one in the Xfinity Series. 2015 GRC silver winner Steve Arpin, who raced in Xfinity and Trucks between 2010 and 2012, won thrice in the now-ARCA Menards Series.

Even if they did not see much stock car success, some NASCAR starters have also claimed X Games medals outside of four-wheel racing in Moto X like three-time gold medalist Ricky Carmichael, who ran the full Truck seasons in 2010 and 2011, and twice gold titlist Jeff Ward, who failed to qualify for his lone Cup try in 1998 but has raced in NASCAR’s regional divisions. DeJong has never made a NASCAR start but currently sim races for Cup team 23XI Racing.

However, easily the most decorated X Games personality to race in NASCAR is Travis Pastrana. He won seven golds in Moto X between 1999 and 2006, followed by two more in 2010, and has also claimed a pair of rallying golds in 2006 and 2008. He made the jump to NASCAR in 2012 and finished fourteenth in the 2013 Xfinity standings, and still makes the occasional Truck one-off.

Credit: Stadium Super Trucks

On the opposite extreme, some NASCAR race winners have participated in the X Games even without any medals to show for it. Rusty Wallace, the 1989 Cup champion and 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee with 55 career wins in the premier series, entered the 2015 SST X Games round; he flipped in the Last Chance Qualifier and missed the final. Also in the event was Boris Said, a longtime NASCAR road ringer with a win each in Xfinity and Trucks, who also failed to qualify for the main. Said previously entered a rally event at the 2007 X Games.

Drivers with NASCAR and X Games experience but missing the victories in either were Buddy Rice, Ricky Johnson, and Austin Dyne, all of whom entered the latter for rallycross. Rice, an IndyCar veteran who ran the 2003 Truck season finale, competed in the 2013 X Games Foz de Iguaçu where he made the main before being caught in a wreck in the first corner. Johnson, who ran twelve Truck races during the series’ early years from 1995 to 1997, was unable to reach the final in X Games 2014. Dyne was a regular in GRC who recorded an eighth-place points finish in what is now the ARCA Menards Series West in 2012 followed by a fifteenth in ARCA East a year later. He did not make the Lites final in 2013 or GRC’s in 2015, but did in 2014 and finished fifth.

With racing no longer in the X Games and the likelihood of a comeback low, it is unlikely for more crossovers to take place unless a NASCAR driver is good enough to do Moto X, skateboarding, BMX, or winter sports (or vice versa). Of those who won X Games medals, the best chance to join Gordon and Cindric as Cup winners comes in Creed, an Xfinity Series rookie for RCR who has become one of stock car racing’s brightest young stars as the 2020 Truck champion. Interestingly, Creed’s Truck title coupled with Cindric’s Xfinity crown meant two of the three NASCAR national series champions in 2020 have won X Games medals.

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About author
Justin is a History major at San Jose State University and lifelong racing fan who has worked for The Checkered Flag since 2018. His coverage mainly focuses on NASCAR, the Stadium Super Trucks, and off-road series like Extreme E and SCORE International. He also dabbles in other disciplines such as IndyCar, rallycross, and sports cars.
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