CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Austin Cindric will replace 2012 NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski in Team Penske’s flagship No. 2 Ford next season.
Roger Penske had planned to put the reigning Xfinity Series champion in a Cup car next year fielded by Wood Brothers Racing in a technical alliance with Team Penske. Those plans were upended when Keselowski decided to leave Team Penske at the end of his 12th season with the organization, a move widely believed to be happening but not confirmed until Thursday.
Keselowski’s departure opened the iconic No. 2 seat in-house for Cindric, the 22-year-old son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric.
“Austin is a champion and has proven his abilities both on and off the track,” team owner Penske said. “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.”
Keselowski had not announced his 2022 plans as of Thursday, but he’s presumed to be moving to Roush Fenway Racing with an ownership stake in that organization.
“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,” Keselowski wrote on social media. “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.”
Keselowski noted that when he arrived at Team Penske in 2010, the organization had 65 Cup Series wins and was still seeking its first Cup title. He gave Roger Penske the championship in his third season, won 34 of his 35 career Cup wins with the team and is a perennial title contender.
He heads to Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as the defending race winner, and he currently is ranked 10th in the standings with a playoff-qualifying victory.
“Over our years together we developed into a formidable force,” Keselowski said. “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.”
Cindric, meanwhile, was to replace Matt DiBenedetto in the No. 21 Ford for the Wood Brothers. That seat will now go to Xfinity Series driver Harrison Burton.
Burton is the 20-year-old son of retired racer and NBC Sports analyst Jeff Burton. He won four races last season and currently is fifth in the Xfinity Series standings.
Cindric has 12 career Xfinity victories and is leading the championship standings. He already has made six Cup starts this year in preparation for next season.
“The No. 2 car is iconic to this sport and is a number that represents the foundation of this team,” Cindric said. “It is a great honor and a great responsibility to continue that role.”
The shuffling puts DiBenedetto out of a ride after two years in the No. 21. He made the playoffs last season and had hoped to keep his seat with Keselowski’s impending departure.
The journeyman driver posted a nine-minute video venting his frustration at losing yet another ride. DiBenedetto said the No. 21 team had been “broken” for some time, but he’d hoped a recent crew chief change would improve performance and help him keep his job.
“It’s OK to have human emotion,” DiBenedetto said in his video. “It doesn’t make it not suck.”
Wood Brothers co-owner Eddie Wood said the decision to go with Burton paired him with Cindric as two young Cup rookies at the same time NASCAR rolls out a new car.
“Everyone who drives for us is family,” Wood said. “Matt is still family.”