COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Columbus native Austin Cindric, a rising star in NASCAR’s top minor-league series, now has a set path toward a full-time ride at stock car racing’s highest level.
Team Penske announced Thursday that Cindric will make his NASCAR Cup Series debut next year with the team and then take over full-time the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford Mustang, with which Penske has a technical partnership, in 2022.
“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 in a release Thursday.
Cindric, 22, has impressed in his two full seasons driving for Penske in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, notching seven wins, including a record-tying five wins in a six-race span this season. He also has 17 top-five finishes this year in 28 races driving the No. 22 Mustang.
Cindric finished sixth in the championship standings last year, and he is a favorite to win the title this year.
“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,” team owner Roger Penske said. “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.
Cindric was born in Columbus and spent his early years in the area while his father, Tim, worked for defunct IndyCar and sports car team TrueSports. Tim is now the president of Team Penske.
In 2022, Cindric will replace the current driver of the iconic No. 21, Matt DiBenedetto, who was renewed Thursday for a second and final year with the team.
DiBenedetto, 29, a fan-favorite underdog who has yet to win a race in his six-year career despite multiple heartbreaking second-place finishes, drove the No. 21 this year to just its second playoff berth since NASCAR switched the Cup championship format in 2004.
The Wood Brothers team had been taking its time this fall on a decision whether to renew DiBenedetto or immediately promote Cindric. But renewing DiBenedetto for a final year gives the Californian a chance to further prove he deserves to drive for a contender, and it allows Cindric to ease into a top-level ride.
“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,” Cindric said.
2022 will also see the debut of the Cup Series’ next generation car, featuring new technologies and improved aerodynamics.
There was no announcement on how many Cup races Cindric will run next year or what car he will drive, but Penske has the option to field a fourth car.
The revamped Cup schedule for 2021 includes six road course races, which should play to Cindric’s strengths. Four of his seven Xfinity Series wins have come on road courses, including one at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last August.
Along with the technical partnership with the No. 21, Team Penske fields three Cup cars of its own: The No. 2 of Brad Keselowski, the No. 22 of Joey Logano and the No. 12, driven by Youngstown-area native Ryan Blaney.
The Cup Series and Xfinity Series head to the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course this weekend, with both races airing on NBC4. Coverage of the Cup race begins Sunday at 2:30 p.m., and the Xfinity race, in which Cindric starts 11th, airs Saturday at 3:30 p.m.