COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Fresh off a championship in NASCAR’s top minor league series, Columbus native Austin Cindric will try to make his first top-level Cup Series start in stock car racing’s biggest event: the Daytona 500.

Team Penske announced Wednesday that Cindric, 22, will attempt to qualify for Feb. 14’s 63rd annual 500-mile race at the high banks of Daytona International Speedway in Florida.

Cindric will pilot a new part-time car for Penske, the No. 33 Ford Mustang, which is a peculiar number considering the organization runs the Nos. 2, 12 and 22 in the Cup Series.

“There is a lot to be excited about heading into Daytona,” the 2020 Xfinity Series champion said Wednesday via team release. “It doesn’t really even need to be said that the Daytona 500 is the biggest crown jewel race in NASCAR and one of the biggest races in the world.”

Cindric’s crew chief – NASCAR’s equivalent of a head coach – will be another Ohio native, Miles Stanley, who has worked as race engineer on Penske’s Nos. 12 and 22 Cup cars. Born in Akron, Stanley graduated from Massillon’s Jackson High School in 2002 and then from the University of Akron in 2007 with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Miles Stanley
Miles Stanley (Photo via Team Penske)

In Stanley’s seven seasons as race engineer for Joey Logano’s No. 22 car, the team won 21 races – including the 2015 Daytona 500 – and the 2018 Cup Series championship. Last year, Stanley transferred to race engineer of the No. 12 car, driven by Youngstown area native Ryan Blaney.

“Ever since I joined Team Penske in 2013, I’ve been able to grow as an engineer and learn from some of the best in the business,” Stanley said in the release. “Now I get the chance to become a Cup Series crew chief with one of the formidable organizations in the sport, which is an amazing opportunity.”

Team Penske previously announced last fall that Cindric will drive select Cup races in 2021 in preparation for him to take over the No. 21 Ford Mustang at Penske affiliate Wood Brothers Racing in 2022. Wednesday’s announcement did not give a specific number of races, nor did it announce a sponsor, but it did say that Stanley will be crew chief for all of them.

Cindric was born in Columbus in 1998 while his father, Tim, worked for defunct IndyCar and sports car team TrueSports. Tim is now president of Team Penske, based in North Carolina, where the younger Cindric graduated high school and began racing.

Cindric has eight Xfinity Series victories in two full seasons, including six last year and the 2019 race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. His best finish in an oval race at Daytona was fourth in July 2019.

High-stakes qualifying format

Cindric’s car is not among the 36 Cup rides that have a charter, which makes it an “open” car not guaranteed to make races. This means Cindric will have to rely purely on his speed and skill to make the Daytona 500.

Forty-four drivers have so far been announced for February’s prestigious season opener. Qualifying for the 40 spots in the 200-lap main event is unique among NASCAR races. Drivers will run time trials to set the lineups of two “duel” races. The fastest two cars are guaranteed first and second and are not required to race in a duel.

The 36 chartered cars are guaranteed a spot in the 500, and the duel races just determine their starting positions for the big race. The top-finishing “open” driver in each 60-lap duel will make the 500, and the final two spots will go to the two remaining drivers with the best qualifying speeds.

The rest go home.

“Qualifying our way into the race as an ‘open’ car will be a big challenge,” Cindric said. “I look forward to working with Miles and all of the guys on the No. 33 team, while also continuing my focus on winning back-to-back Xfinity Series Championships.”