After four seasons of full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series racing, Austin Cindric is making a highly anticipated jump to the NASCAR Cup Series.
“I’m excited for it,” Cindric said in a pre-season media availability. “I probably couldn’t have told you that when I was racing Bandolero and Legends cars that I was ever gonna drive the 2 car. I’m not sure that was even like a thought.”
Cindric will drive the No. 2 for Team Penske in 2022, replacing Brad Keselowski who is now part-owner and driver for Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing. Growing up, Cindric idolized Keselowski and got to know him through his father Tim Cindric, the President of Team Penske.
“I remember playing video games with Brad Keselowski in my basement,” Cindric said. “My bedroom at home still has a signed picture from Brad after he won Bristol. It’s kind of one of those things where you almost have to tell yourself not to think about.”
At just 15-years-old, Cindric raced open-wheel in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Series for Pabst Racing. He spent one season with the team before switching to IMSA, racing full-time in the Grand Sport division in 2015 and the Pirelli World Challenge-GT in 2016.
Meanwhile, Cindric had one-off opportunities in the ARCA Menards Series and the Camping World Truck Series. Between 2015 and 2016, he made six starts for Brad Keselowski Racing and was offered a ride for the entire 2017 season by the team. Cindric struggled to start the season, but found victory lane at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and finished the year with seven consecutive top-10s.
“In 2017, I had the opportunity to go full-time racing in IMSA at a high level with manufacturer support or go start a NASCAR career racing for Brad in the Truck Series,” Cindric said. “I feel like that opportunity wasn’t gonna come again and, sure enough, it wouldn’t because Brad’s truck team shut down a year later.”
Cindric rose to the Xfinity Series in 2018, but not with just one team. He made all 33 starts, but it spanned across two organizations and three teams. He made nine starts for then Roush Fenway Racing and 24 starts for Team Penske, appearing in both the No. 12 and No. 22 cars.
In 2019, he secured the No. 22 car full time, winning consecutively at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio in August, finishing sixth in points. Cindric finally broke through with a huge season in 2020, winning six races and the championship.
Unfortunately, Cindric fell short of defending his title in 2021, but still won five races and secured his Cup promotion. He originally was going to drive the No. 21 for Wood Brothers Racing, but Penske signed him to the No. 2 after Keselowski announced his departure.
But, before he signed a full-time Cup deal with Penske, he agreed to a seven-race deal in 2021 to gain experience while maintaining his rookie status. Cindric made four oval starts, including the Daytona 500, and three road course starts. In his final race, he secured a ninth-place finish at the Indianapolis Road Course.
Cindric’s rookie season in Cup will be a bit untraditional, but he should have an opportunity. With the series shifting to the NextGen car, he’ll face the same challenge as his competitors in learning a brand new car. The car is supposed to drive more like a sports car, which should suit Cindric.
“Everything that we’ve learned [testing] are things we’re gonna apply for the season and it’s pretty much the only data points we have to apply for the season,” Cindric said. “At Team Penske we’ve had all of our available cars able to run laps and make miles and [make] changes and be able to understand, so I think our team has done an incredible job at being prepared with a lot of unknowns.”
To guide him through his rookie season, Cindric will lean on series veterans Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney – two drivers he’s known and meshed well with. Plus, longtime friend Harrison Burton will also debut full-time in Cup and pilot the No. 21 for Wood Brothers Racing.
“The first opportunity we kind of had to [work together], we actually went to Indianapolis to promote the race before the Brickyard weekend,” Cindric said. “That was after my announcement came out, so it was kind of the first time. It was kind of a preview of things to come and I think [me, Logano, and Blaney] all left that experience like, ‘this is gonna be a lot of fun.'”
With many unknowns in 2022, Team Penske has full confidence in Cindric’s abilities and they expect him to run competitively in his rookie season.
“We felt that he was ready to make the move [to Cup] last year,” said Walt Czarnecki, Vice Chairman of Team Penske. “I happen to think he’ll win a race, maybe more than one, but that’s not one of the goalposts that’s been set. It’s to go out there and learn, learn, learn because as successful as he’s been in the Xfinity Series, we all know that we’re stepping up to the big league fastball right now. It’s gonna be a little bit of a different universe. He’s acquitted himself well in the several races he ran last year, but I think it’s gonna be a challenge for him as he goes through 36 points events this year.”
Leading up to the NASCAR season, Cindric will race the Michelin Pilot Challenge and the Rolex 24 in IMSA from Jan. 28-30 at Daytona International Speedway. He’ll team up with Burton in the Michelin Pilot Challenge, while he’ll co-drive with Dirk Mueller and Patrick Assenheimer for WeatherTech Racing in the GTD Pro class.
“It’ll be my third time doing [both events], so I’ve kind of done it before,” Cindric said. “It is a lot of fun. I’ve left those weekends feeling very grateful because there are only a few guys that’ll be down there. I haven’t looked at entry lists for the Michelin Pilot Challenge, but there are usually six or seven guys that end up doing [both], kind of 28 hours of racing and it’s pretty special.”
The 2022 Cup Series begins on Feb. 6 with the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Coliseum.