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Matt DiBenedetto remains with Wood Brothers Racing for 2021 season in Cup

Matt DiBenedetto has inked a contract extension with Wood Brothers Racing, the organization announced Thursday in a release. And Team Penske announced that rising prospect Austin Cindric has signed a multiyear contract, keeping him in the NASCAR Xfinity Series next year before taking over the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford full-time in 2022.

Those moves appear to iron out all variables in the driver lineup for Team Penske and its affiliated NASCAR teams for next season. Both drivers had indicated that their plans were in limbo in recent weeks, but now Cindric’s path to the Cup Series has come to light. He’ll race in what the team called “select” Cup Series events next season as he prepares for a Sunoco Rookie of the Year campaign in 2022, which dovetails with the projected debut of NASCAR’s Next Gen stock car.

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In his first season driving the iconic No. 21 Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Cup Series, DiBenedetto’s best finish was second place — achieved twice, both times at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Those results tie his career-best finish, which was set in 2019 in the Bristol Motor Speedway night race.

The 2021 season will serve as his seventh full-time year competing at NASCAR’s highest level. DiBenedetto completed one season driving for Leavine Family Racing in 2019, preceded by two seasons at Go Fas Racing and another two seasons for now-defunct BK Racing.

With Cindric’s planned arrival to the Cup Series ranks, DiBenedetto will be job-hunting for 2022. But the arrangement means he’ll have another full season to firm up his plans and further prove his worth for prospective employers.

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“It’s such an honor to be able to continue to drive for Wood Brothers Racing and have another year to grow with this organization,” DiBenedetto said in a release provided by the team. “I am excited to learn from our 2020 notebook and I’m confident that with a full season under our belt and working together as a team, we will produce even better results. I also want to thank Ford Performance and Team Penske for their efforts in making this happen. These types of decisions take a lot of time, as we all know there are a lot of factors in play. All three groups want to make the best decisions for everyone involved and I’m appreciative to have the opportunity to continue to compete for such a legendary race team.”

DiBenedetto qualified for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs on the basis of points, earning two top fives and seven top 10s in the regular season. He was eliminated from title contention after the opening Round of 16.

The Wood Brothers have earned 99 Cup Series race victories. The 29-year-old is trying to become the 19th driver to win for the organization.

The 2020 season has been a breakout year for Cindric in the Xfinity Series, earning five victories — two races at Kentucky Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Road America and the Daytona International Speedway Road Course.

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The 22-year-old driver has competed in two full-time seasons driving the No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang, while also spending the full 2018 season alternating between Penske and Roush Fenway Racing.

“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 team release. “Every race car driver wants to advance in his career, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than on a clear path with Team Penske that will eventually lead to a full-time opportunity in the NASCAR Cup Series. I’m really excited for this next chapter in my development to continue working towards competing and trying to win at the highest level. 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.”

Although Cindric does not yet have a Cup Series start under his belt, he did serve as a substitute driver for Michael McDowell in the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford during the opening practice session at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval last season.