Team Penske put an end to multiple rumors on Thursday, July 15, by announcing that Brad Keselowski will part ways with the team at the end of the 2021 season. Austin Cindric, the defending NASCAR Xfinity Series champion will replace him in the No. 2 Ford Mustang. Now Penske has explained the reasoning behind this decision.
The team owner met with media members on Thursday to provide more information about the team changes. During this session, he clarified that Cindric taking over the championship-contending car has nothing to do with being the son of team president Tim Cindric. Instead, his move to Cup coincided with Team Penske suddenly having an open spot in the three-car stable.
“I couldn’t be prouder to say that he’s gonna be the driver of the No. 2 car, and I think he’s earned the respect,” Penske said to media members, per NASCAR. “You come in as the son of the guy who is the president of Team Penske, you’d probably come in with a little bit of weight on your shoulders, but I can tell you one thing, as far as I’m concerned, all that’s off. He’s proven to be the driver he is, the individual he is today.”
Cindric Previously Agreed to Take Over the No. 21
Prior to the 2020 championship race at Phoenix, Wood Brothers Racing announced that Cindric would replace Matt DiBenedetto in the No. 21 Ford Mustang after the 2021 season. He would follow a path similar to new teammate Ryan Blaney and work with a smaller team during his first full-time Cup Series season.
However, the situation changed with Keselowski moving on to a different team — reportedly Roush Fenway Racing. Penske needed a driver that could climb into the No. 2 Ford Mustang and immediately contend for wins and playoff appearances.
Cindric has made six starts in Cup during the 2021 season, finishing a season-best 15th at the Daytona 500. He also led laps at Circuit of the Americas and Road America while showcasing his acumen on road courses. However, a mechanical issue sent him to the garage early at Road America, ending his day after only 35 of the 62 laps.
“He’s had some good rides, running well at Daytona before the accident, and we were not expecting, quite honestly, we would not be able to put a deal together with Brad, but we can talk about that later probably,” Penske added during his media session. “This gave us a chance to step back and then you have the discussion with your key sponsor.
“Discount Tire has been a major player with us for a number of years. With the team and Discount Tire, we felt that was a very easy move for us. Brad really opened that up for Austin, and I think with that move we wanted to announce it today.”
Cindric Will Face Extra Pressure to Succeed
Simply becoming a member of Team Penske automatically increases the level of pressure on each driver considering the number of wins (128 in Cup) and championships (two in Cup) in the organization’s history. However, taking over for a champion with a history of success only increases the scrutiny from the fanbase.
Keselowski spent his entire full-time Cup career with Team Penske, starting with the 2010 season. He has made 34 trips to Victory Lane with the organization, and he capped off the 2012 season by becoming a champion.
Cindric is no stranger to winning by any means. He is the defending Xfinity Series champion and the current points leader midway through the 2021 season. All of Cindric’s wins have been under the Team Penske banner, including four in the first 18 races of 2021.
The driver of the No. 22 Ford Mustang is the current favorite to win the Xfinity Series championship before he heads up to NASCAR’s top series. Going back-to-back will help alleviate some of the pressure on Cindric as he prepares to take over Keselowski, but he will still face immediately raised expectations once he climbs into the No. 2.