NASCAR musical chairs went into overdrive on Thursday with Team Penske selecting Austin Cindric to replace Brad Keselowski in its flagship No. 2 Ford Mustang.
Keselowski is expected to take a leadership/driver role with Roush Fenway Racing at the end of this season. While Cindric was initially slated to drive the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, that seat will now be filled by Harrison Burton.
Cindric, 22, is the defending Xfinity Series champion and current points leader. He is the son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric.
“Austin is a champion and has proven his abilities both on and off the track.” said team owner Roger Penske. “The Cup Series is a big step for any rookie but making this move now, in conjunction with the introduction of the new NextGen car, makes sense. He has gained valuable experience this year competing in a handful of races at the Cup level and he has shown that he belongs out there.”
Cindric has posted 12 wins, 51 top fives and 77 top 10s in 118 starts in the Xfinity Series. He currently boasts a remarkable average finish of 7.8.
In six Cup starts this season, Cindric’s average qualifying effort during time trials at Circuit of the Americas and Road America was fourth. He led laps at both venues—as well as in the Daytona 500 earlier this year. Cindric’s best Cup result was 22nd—twice—at Atlanta and Kansas.
“Throughout my NASCAR career, I've grown a lot as a driver and an individual,” Cindric said. “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 No. 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.”
Discount Tire, which has sponsored the No. 2 Ford on a limited basis, will reappear as a livery on both the Nos. 2 and 12 in 2022.
Burton, 20, is the son of former Cup driver Jeff Burton. He is currently fifth in the NXS standings despite struggling to find Victory Lane with Joe Gibbs Racing. Last season, Burton scored four wins and finished eighth in points in his first full season on the tour. “Since I began racing quarter midgets, the hope and goal was always to become a full-time driver in the NASCAR Cup Series,” Burton said. “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.”
Burton started his NASCAR career at 15. He ran a combination of Camping World Truck Series, ARCA and K&N Pro Series races. Burton scored three wins in 17 ARCA starts, five K&N victories in 33 races, but failed to post a ‘W’ after 38 truck attempts.
Burton replaces Matt DiBenedetto, who is currently 18th in the standings in his second season with the Wood Brothers and seventh year in Cup. The Grass Valley, Calif. native, who turns 30 on July 27, has five top-fives and 16 top 10s since joining the team in 2020. He posted consecutive top 10s at Road America and Atlanta since replacing Greg Erwin with Jonathan Hassler five races ago, but the improvements were likely too little, too late.
“As a team owner, you always want to keep an eye for the future and what’s best for your organization in hopes to set yourself up for success long-term,” said team President and Co-Owner Eddie Wood. “As things have progressed and changed over the last few months, we had the chance to look at what our options are and when we determined that Harrison would be available for our team, we wanted to jump at the opportunity to work with him.
“Harrison is young, but comes from a family full of successful race car drivers. The advice and support they can offer to Harrison as he makes this transition will be very important to his success. What a lot of us forget is that he is not even 21 years old yet and has only been racing in both the Truck Series and Xfinity Series for a couple of years. So when we looked at the future and finding someone to build our program around, Harrison seemed like a great option.”