In 2021, Austin Cindric will not only seek to defend his NASCAR Xfinity Series championship, but will also begin racing in the Cup Series on a part-time basis. The first step in the latter was revealed on Wednesday when Team Penske announced he try to make his Cup début in the season-opening Daytona 500, driving the #33 Ford Mustang.
After two seasons in the Xfinity Series that produced two combined wins, Cindric broke out in 2020 with a six-win campaign that ended in his first NASCAR title. Last October, while the regular season champion was thick in the playoffs, Penske announced he would run a part-time Cup schedule for the team in 2021 before taking over the #21 of Wood Brothers Racing full time in 2022.
While the Daytona 500 will be Cindric’s first Cup race, it is not his first seat time in a premier series car. In 2019, he was a substitute practice driver for Penske’s Brad Keselowski and fellow Ford driver Michael McDowell in at Atlanta and the Charlotte Roval, respectively, while the two were dealing with medical issues.
Number 33 was last used in the Cup Series in 2017 by Circle Sport for Jeffrey Earnhardt, and is most notably associated with Harry Gant, who won eighteen races with the number from 1981 to 1994. The number will be new to Penske, whose part-time Cup teams used the #02 and #06 for Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish Jr. before they started racing full-time in the series. While Penske is regularly connected with #2, #12, and #22, the team has also fielded the #26, #39, and #48 at the Xfinity level.
Miles Stanley, the race engineer for Ryan Blaney and the #12 team, will serve as Cindric’s crew chief.
“Ever since I joined Team Penske in 2013, I’ve been able to grow as an engineer and learn from some of the best in the business,” Stanley stated. “Now I get the chance to become a Cup Series crew chief with one of the formidable organizations in the sport, which is an amazing opportunity. To get to do it with Austin at Daytona International Speedway is a perfect recipe for success. I look forward to working with him and hitting the ground running with the No. 33 Ford team in Daytona and the other Cup Series races that Austin runs in 2021.”
Cindric is not locked into the Daytona 500, the entry list for which is now up to 44 cars. With 36 teams already guaranteed a slot via charter, Cindric will have to fight for the four remaining spots by qualfying on speed or through the Bluegreen Vacations Duel. Other non-chartered teams currently entered in the race include Noah Gragson (Beard Motorsports), Chad Finchum and Timmy Hill (MBM Motorsports), Ty Dillon (Gaunt Brothers Racing), David Ragan (Front Row Motorsports‘ #36), Ryan Preece (JTG Daugherty Racing), and Kaz Grala (Kaulig Racing).
“There is a lot to be excited about heading into Daytona,” said Cindric. “It doesn’t really even need to be said that the Daytona 500 is the biggest crown jewel race in NASCAR and one of the biggest races in the world – so to have a shot to be in the show while driving for Roger Penske is a big opportunity. Qualifying our way into the race as an ‘open’ car will be a big challenge. I look forward to working with Miles and all of the guys on the No. 33 team, while also continuing my focus on winning back-to-back Xfinity Series Championships.”
Further Cup races for Cindric in the #33 were not immediately revealed.