The 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion is officially parting ways with Team Penske. Brad Keselowski will move on to pursue “other opportunities within the sport” while defending Xfinity Series driver Austin Cindric will replace him in the No. 2 Ford Mustang. Additionally, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Harrison Burton will move from the Xfinity Series up to Cup and replace Matt DiBenedetto in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford Mustang.
Team Penske confirmed the sweeping changes on Thursday, July 15. The team previously announced that Cindric would be the one replacing DiBenedetto, but Keselowski’s departure — likely to Roush Fenway Racing — opened up a spot in one of NASCAR’s most competitive cars. Cindric will now compete full-time after making limited starts throughout 2021.
“Austin is a champion and has proven his abilities both on and off the track.” said team owner Roger Penske, per Jayski. “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.”
In addition to taking over for Keselowski in the No. 2, Cindric will continue working with a top sponsor. Team Penske announced that Discount Tire will sponsor the new full-time Cup Series driver, as well as teammate Ryan Blaney, during the 2022 season.
Cindric Will Try To Cap Off His Xfinity Series Career With More Wins
While the move to the No. 2 is major news in Cindric’s career, he won’t let it distract from his ultimate goal. He is currently in the midst of his final Xfinity Series season, one in which he remains a championship favorite.
The driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang is the current points leader after winning four races and posting 11 top-five finishes in 18 starts. He has led 534 laps, the most in the series, and he has a 74-point lead over AJ Allmendinger. If he continues to perform at this level, Cindric will have the opportunity to cap off his Xfinity Series career with two straight championships.
“Throughout my NASCAR career, I’ve grown a lot as a driver and an individual,” Cindric said in a press release, per Jayski. “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.”
Cindric will continue his season with the Ambetter Get Vaccinated 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The race will take place on Saturday, July 17, at 3 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Network will provide coverage.
The 2020 Rookie of the Year Will Make His Full-Time Cup Debut in 2022
The son of NBC Sports analyst Jeff Burton, Harrison Burton has spent the last two seasons as a full-time Xfinity Series driver. He won four races in 2020 en route to Rookie of the Year honors and a seventh-place finish in the points standings. Burton has not won a race in 2021, but he has 11 top-10 finishes and five top-fives. He remains well above the playoff cut line as the end of the regular season approaches.
While Burton is a JGR driver, he will move over to the oldest active team in NASCAR history. Wood Brothers Racing is one of the winningest teams in Cup Series history with an all-star assortment of past drivers. The list includes Blaney, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Neil Bonnett, Dan Gurney, AJ Foyt, and Buddy Baker
“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 in a statement, per Jayski. “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.”
The No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford Mustang has worked with some major sponsors in recent years, including Ford Quick Lane and Motorcraft. The team announced on Thursday, July 15, that these two partners will return for the 2022 season and begin working with Burton. There will be others that join the fold ahead of Burton’s debut at the 2022 Daytona 500. However, the team will not make any announcements until a later date.
“We are quite excited to begin working with Harrison and 2022 is perfect timing,” said team Co-Owner Len Wood. “With the introduction of the new NextGen car next year, we have the ability to grow with him and build our program around what he wants. We don’t want to say it puts him on a level playing field, because there are a lot of great drivers in the Cup Series, but having a rookie come in at the same time a new car is introduced will help build us a solid foundation and hopefully get us off to a strong start.”