Matt DiBenedetto received a reprieve on Thursday.
In a joint announcement with Team Penske, Wood Brothers Racing announced the affable driver would return to race the No. 21 Ford in 2021—but will be replaced by Austin Cindric for the 2022 season.
DiBenedetto, 29, who is in his sixth season in the Cup Series, anxiously awaited his fate over the last couple of weeks after the deadline for his renewal came and went on Sept. 29. Now, he’s assured of a solid ride to audition for his next opportunity.
“It’s such an honor to be able to continue to drive for Wood Brothers Racing and have another year to grow with this organization,” DiBenedetto said. “I am excited to learn from our 2020 notebook and I’m confident that with a full season under our belt and working together as a team, we will produce even better results.
“I also want to thank Ford Performance and Team Penske for their efforts in making this happen. These types of decisions take a lot of time, as we all know there are a lot of factors in play. All three groups want to make the best decisions for everyone involved and I’m appreciative to have the opportunity to continue to compete for such a legendary race team.”
DiBenedetto started the season strong in his debut with the Wood Brothers. He scored two top fives and seven top 10s and was solidly in the top 16 in the NASCAR Cup standings to transfer into the Playoffs for his first post-season appearance. Unfortunately, DiBenedetto was eliminated after the Round of 16.
He came back in the first race in the Round of 12 and scored his second second-place finish of 2020 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway two weeks ago.
“Matt has been able to find success this year under very difficult circumstances,” said team President and Co-Owner Eddie Wood. “Since he joined our team, he only had limited time working with our group due to the pandemic. While it’s been an entirely new organization, he found a way to consistently run up front and make the Playoffs. We have learned a lot together this year and we look forward to continuing to build with Matt in 2021.”
Just prior to the Wood Brothers’ release, Team Penske announced a multi-year contract extension for Cindric. After a breakout season where the driver of the No. 22 Penske Ford Mustang became just the second driver on the NACAR Xfinity tour to win five races in six events, he was under serious consideration for a promotion to Cup. Despite the immense growth of the 22-year-old third-generation racer, prudence prevailed.
“As we continue to position our team for future success, it is important to make sure Austin continues his development in the Xfinity Series with Team Penske,” said Roger Penske. “Austin has made great strides in recent years and he has become a consistent winner and a true championship contender this season. He will continue his natural progression and get some Cup Series experience in 2021. That will help him prepare for a full season in 2022 with the new NextGen car, racing the No. 21 Ford Mustang for Wood Brothers Racing.”
Cindric is currently second in the NXS standings, 34 points behind his friend and fellow Ford Performance development driver Chase Briscoe. However, Cindric leads the tour with 17 top fives and won the NXS regular-season title. He has seven career NXS wins, one truck win, one ARCA win and two victories in two starts in the K&N Pro Series East.
“This is a big step forward in my career long-term, and I am humbled and motivated by the opportunity and the confidence that Team Penske, Ford Performance, the Wood Brothers, and all of our partners have expressed in my abilities and my development as a driver,” Cindric said. “Every race car driver wants to advance in his career, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than on a clear path with Team Penske that will eventually lead to a full-time opportunity in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“I’m really excited for this next chapter in my development to continue working towards competing and trying to win at the highest level. Another season of experience in the Xfinity Series will be beneficial and I’m looking forward to competing in some Cup Series races in 2021 to prepare for a full season in 2022."