The NASCAR garage awakened to the news of a major driver lineup shuffle among the Ford Performance group on Thursday morning, seeing a title winner slated to vacate his championship ride, the reigning Xfinity Series champ set to take hold of it and another Xfinity standout making the move up to the Cup Series for the 2022 season.
Team Penske confirmed 2012 premier series champion Brad Keselowski would depart the No. 2 Ford after the season “to pursue other opportunities within the sport.” Austin Cindric is set to make the full-time move up to Cup to pilot the entry starting next season. Cindric had previously been announced as the next driver to pilot the famed No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford in 2022 — instead that distinction will go to Harrison Burton, currently the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in Xfinity.
“Austin is a champion and has proven his abilities both on and off the track,” said Roger Penske in the team’s release. “The Cup Series is a big step for any rookie but making this move now, in conjunction with the introduction of the new Next Gen 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.”
Cindric rode a six-win, 19 top-five season to last year’s middle division title, his first at the national series level. He’s on pace to repeat, with four wins in 2021 and a firm hold at the top of the points standings over former Penske driver AJ Allmendinger.
The move is somewhat full circle for Cindric and Keselowski. The former began his national series career in 2015 driving for Brad Keselowski Racing in the Truck Series. All of Cindric’s 29 starts in that series came with BKR.
“Throughout my NASCAR career, I’ve grown a lot as a driver and an individual,” Cindric said in a team release. “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.”
At Wood Brothers, Burton will replace Matt DiBenedetto, who has piloted the No. 21 Ford the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Keselowski has been rumored to be making a move to Roush Fenway Racing’s Fords in a driver/owner role.
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) July 15, 2021
“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 Wood Brothers release. “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.”
Burton has five top fives and 11 top-10 finishes in 18 races this season, sitting fifth in the standings. The son of former NASCAR Cup Series driver and current NBC race analyst Jeff Burton, the 20-year-old Burton has participated full-time in NASCAR’s Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series since 2019. He won four Xfinity races last year en route to an eighth-place finish in the final point standings and series Rookie of the Year honors.
“As a team owner, you always want to keep an eye for the future and what’s best for your organization in hopes to set yourself up for success long-term,” said team president and co-owner Eddie Wood in a team release. “As things have progressed and changed over the last few months, we had the chance to look at what our options are and when we determined that Harrison would be available for our team, we wanted to jump at the opportunity to work with him. Harrison is young, but comes from a family full of successful race car drivers. The advice and support they can offer to Harrison as he makes this transition will be very important to his success. What a lot of us forget is that he is not even 21 years old yet and has only been racing in both the Truck Series and Xfinity Series for a couple of years. So when we looked at the future and finding someone to build our program around, Harrison seemed like a great option.”
Additionally, Team Penske announced that Discount Tire will remain a key sponsor moving forward on both the No. 2 of Cindric and the No. 12 of Ryan Blaney in 2022. The remainder of Cindric’s partner lineup will be announced at a later date.