NASCAR Notebook: Daytona 500 champion Cindric serves on jury for murder trial

In this Feb. 20, 2022, file photo, Austin Cindric celebrates in victory lane after winning the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Associated Press)
In this Feb. 20, 2022, file photo, Austin Cindric celebrates in victory lane after winning the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Associated Press)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Austin Cindric traded his regular seat in a Ford for one in a jury box when he served during a North Carolina murder trial in December. The reigning Daytona 500 champion and his fellow jurors found the accused guilty.

“Very guilty,” Cindric said, laughing.

Winning the Daytona 500 comes with residual benefits. The 24-year-old Team Penske driver was just famous enough to get out of serving as the jury foreman.

“Enough people knew who I was,” Cindric said Wednesday. “I didn’t want to be the one to deliver the bad news.”

He had some bad news after his surprise triumph at Daytona. Cindric’s Daytona 500 win in the No. 2 Ford was his only victory of the season for Team Penske. But his road toward serving for a trial started when he received a jury summons in the mail just two weeks after he won Daytona.

One problem: Cindric’s schedule was sort of booked through November.

“I got a deferral,” Cindric said. “And then I told them they could send me (a summons), these are the weeks I have off.”

He even got The Captain involved. Cindric asked team owner Roger Penske’s lawyers to send a letter to the court that explained why the driver could not serve, at least until the offseason. Sure enough, Cindric, the son of the president of Penske’s racing organization, got his jury duty delayed.

Cindric eventually committed to his jury duty for almost two weeks in December. With the trial behind him, Cindric can focus on a repeat at Daytona.

“Some people will always know who Austin Cindric is because he won the Daytona 500, and I’m totally fine with that,” Cindric said at the track where he won NASCAR’s season opener.

But even before he takes the wheel Sunday, Cindric is getting plenty of attention for the way he spent his offseason.

“Listen, I never want to see murder happen,” three-time Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin said, “but that would be very captivating to me. I love true crime. I’m a true crime junkie. That would have been really interesting.”

III

Kyle Busch declined to say why he feels the need to carry a handgun, but the Richard Childress Racing driver said he had a valid concealed carry permit long before was he was detained at a Mexican airport.

Asked why he carries guns, Busch said, “doesn’t matter.”

Busch was detained at a Mexican airport late last month when a handgun and ammunition were discovered in his luggage, the NASCAR star acknowledged last week, apologizing for the incident and calling it “a mistake.”

A judge in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, home to beach destinations Cancun and Tulum, gave Busch a conditional sentence this month of 3½ years in prison and ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine for having a gun and ammunition. Busch was allowed to leave Mexico after he paid a bond.

Busch declined to discuss the incident and stood behind his statement of apology.

Busch said he had guns even before he and his family were inside the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., when there was a shooting there last August. Busch’s wife, Samantha, detailed the harrowing experience in an Instagram post.

III

NASCAR will celebrate the start of its 75th season with nine winners of both the Daytona 500 and a Cup Series championship giving the command for drivers to start their engines at the Daytona 500.

NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Bill Elliott, Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett will be joined by Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Joey Logano.

Petty and Johnson are both seven-time Cup Series champions. Petty also has a record seven Daytona 500 victories and Johnson has a pair of Daytona 500 wins. Allison, Jarrett and Gordon are three-time Daytona 500 champions, Elliott won it twice, and Harvick, Busch and Logano each have one Daytona 500 victory.

“If a driver has won both a Daytona 500 and a NASCAR Cup Series championship, they have accomplished the two most difficult feats possible in our sport and deserve to be put on a pedestal,” Daytona International Speedway president Frank Kelleher said. “As we start NASCAR’s 75th anniversary season, it’s important to honor these legends. There’s no better time to give fans the chance to celebrate the past than before a sold-out crowd at Daytona International Speedway.”

III

Tiffany Haddish will serve as honorary starter for the Daytona 500. The comedian and “Night School” actress was the latest celebrity added to Sunday’s lineup.

“I can’t wait to feel the power I’ll have with the green flag in hand as I get to tell those drivers when they can start the Daytona 500,” Haddish said.

Country music star Dierks Bentley will play the pre-race concert and BRELAND will sing the national anthem for the Daytona 500. Since his breakout viral hit, “My Truck,” landed in 2019, BRELAND has quickly immersed himself in Nashville’s songwriting rooms, taking over as the king of country collaborations. He’s even recorded a song with Bentley.

III

Hamlin has a new hobby: pickleball.

“I’m actually looking to purchase a stake in one of the professional teams,” Hamlin said. “It’s really exciting from my standpoint. It’s like tennis, only better for my shoulder. Anything that’s better on my joints is something I appreciate. All of my golfing buddies, we really can’t golf in the winter. It’s great for us to be able to do it indoors, which is a blast.”