Thursday morning brought big news for Ford allies Team Penske and Wood Brothers Racing as the former announced NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Austin Cindric will replace Brad Keselowski in the #2 Ford Mustang for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season. Cindric was initially planned to take over WBR’s #21 in 2022, which will now be filled by Harrison Burton who moves over from Joe Gibbs Racing and consequently leaves Matt DiBenedetto out of a ride.
Keselowski departs Penske after twelve years in the organisation, during which he won the 2010 Xfinity and 2012 Cup titles. While he has not formally announced his 2022 plans, plans to become a co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing are all but confirmed; he previously ran the Camping World Truck Series team Brad Keselowski Racing, whom Cindric drove for in 2017 before moving up to the Xfinity Series.
“Getting to drive for Mr. Roger Penske in the No. 2 has been a tremendous opportunity, and I am so proud of the success we’ve had together,” read a written statement from Keselowski. “His guidance has helped me both be a better competitor, but even more so, a better man.”When I first walked through the doors at Team Penske, the team had 65 Cup Series wins and was on the hunt for their first NASCAR Championship. Over our years together we developed into a formidable force. Today, the team has more than 130 Cup Series wins, two XFINITY Championships and two Cup Series Championships. I am so proud to have played a role in these wins and milestones.
“Looking to the future, I wish Austin and the team all the best in this next chapter. I extend my sincerest gratitude to the entire 2 crew for their commitment and work over these past 12+ years. I know they will continue to do great things together with Austin at the wheel.
“Making the decision to part ways with Team Penske to embrace a new opportunity and challenge was a difficult one, and one I did not take lightly. I know that I am leaving in a good place though, and I am both excited and eager to share the details of what’s next for me soon.
“Right now, my focus remains on winning more races in 2021 and giving it my all to take down our second Championship.”
As the reigning Xfinity champion, current points leader, and son of Penske president Tim Cindric, it comes with little surprise that Austin eventually found his way to the team’s Cup programme. In addition to gunning for a second consecutive Xfinity title, he is running a part-time Cup schedule in a fourth Penske car to help him learn the top level’s atmosphere. His best Cup finish in six races is fifteenth in his series début at the Daytona 500, and the former sports car racer has also led eight laps at road courses.
“Throughout my NASCAR career, I’ve grown a lot as a driver and an individual,” said Cindric. “There are so many individuals within the walls of Team Penske that have elevated me to a level that matches this opportunity. The support towards my development from Roger, Team Penske, and all of our partners has been the leading factor towards race wins and a championship.
“The #2 car is iconic to this sport and is a number that represents the foundation of this team. It is a great honor and a great responsibility to continue that role. As 2022 gets closer, I am excited to embrace that. Until then, my focus remains on winning another Xfinity Series championship.”
The original blueprint called for Cindric to run the limited Cup slate for Penske before moving up full-time in 2022 with WBR. However, factors such as Keselowski’s departure led to a change in plans as Cindric moves into Penske’s flagship car.
While some fan speculation may have suggested WBR retaining DiBenedetto in response to the #2’s developments, the team instead enlists Burton for the job. Burton currently in his second year of Xfinity competition for Joe Gibbs Racing, and despite having yet to win a race sits fifth in points. He scored four wins in 2020.
In May, Burton made his Cup début at Talladega and finished twentieth.
“Since I began racing quarter midgets, the hope and goal was always to become a full-time driver in the NASCAR Cup Series,” Burton commented. “Now, I get to do this with one of the most storied teams in NASCAR history in the Wood Brothers and with an association with Ford Motor Company and Ford Performance. I don’t think I could have dreamt of a better situation to put myself in when it comes to the start of my NASCAR Cup Series career. Add to that the technical alliance with Team Penske and the knowledge I’ll gain from working with their drivers and I’m really excited for 2022 and the future. This is a great opportunity for me and I can’t thank Eddie and Len Wood enough for giving me this chance.”
Assuming he stays in the series, DiBenedetto’s ousting will leave him searching for his fifth team since starting his Cup career in 2015. In his first year with WBR in 2020, he qualified for his first career playoffs and finished thirteenth in points. However, the team has struggled in 2021 as he is eighteenth in the standings with five top tens, and the difficulties resulted in a crew chief change midseason.
DiBenedetto voiced his thoughts on the news in a nine-minute Instagram video.
Cindric’s replacement in the #22 Penske Xfinity car and Burton’s in JGR’s #20 were not immediately revealed. It is likely that the latter is filled by rising star and JGR family member Ty Gibbs.