Team Penske found a one-year solution for Matt DiBenedetto while building a long-term plan to move Austin Cindric to the Cup Series.
DiBenedetto's contract was extended Thursday to drive for Wood Brothers Racing in 2021. Cindric, currently competing in the Xfinity Series for Penske, will take over the seat in 2022.
Cindric will compete in both Xfinity Series next season as well as select Cup races. The 22-year-old son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric showed this season he is ready for a promotion to NASCAR's top series, a move that could have cost DiBenedetto his seat with the Penske-affiliated team.
“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,” said Roger Penske. “Austin has made great strides in recent years and he has become a consistent winner and a true championship contender this season."
Penske said Cindric will drive one final season in Xfinity then take over the No. 21 Ford from DiBenedetto in 2022 when NASCAR's new car debuts.
Penske and the Wood Brothers formed a technical alliance in 2015 designed for talent development. Ryan Blaney began his Cup career in the No. 21 before Penske pulled him in-house.
DiBenedetto desperately wanted to keep his seat and has publicly lobbied for it the last few weeks. He made the playoffs in his first year with the team but was eliminated after the first round.
DiBenedetto finished second the last two weeks, but his runner-up finish at Talladega on Sunday was disqualified after NASCAR ruled he'd driven below the out-of-bounds line.
“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,” said DiBenedetto. “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.”
Wood Brothers Racing is the oldest active NASCAR team.
Cindric, meanwhile, was the Xfinity Series regular season champion and is currently racing for the championship. He has five wins this season and is currently ranked second in the standings.
“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," Cindric said. "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.”
Suarez joining new Trackhouse Racing team
CHARLOTTE — Former driver Justin Marks has started a new NASCAR team that will field a car in 2021 for Daniel Suarez.
The team announced Wednesday is called Trackhouse Racing and will field the No. 99 Chevrolet for Suarez, who will drive for his fourth team in four years. The team will have an alliance with Richard Childress Racing.
“The formation of a top-level NASCAR Cup Series team has been a dream of mine for a long time,” said Marks, owner of Trackhouse Entertainment Group. “A lot of hard work has transpired to get us to this point and I don’t think we could’ve ended up with better partners in RCR and Chevrolet and with a more passionate and committed driver than Daniel Suarez."
Suarez in 2016 became the only foreign-born NASCAR national champion when he won the Xfinity Series title. The Mexican driver was then rushed to Cup by Joe Gibbs Racing when Carl Edwards abruptly retired. He was moved out of JGR after two season when the team needed the seat and landed at Stewart-Haas Racing. But that deal lasted just one season when SHR needed Suarez's seat to promote Cole Custer.
Suarez scrambled during the offseason to get a seat with Gaunt Brothers Racing, but that team did not have a charter that guaranteed a spot in the Daytona 500. Suarez missed the season-opening race, the upstart team was not competitive and he said last month he was leaving at the end of this year.
“We are building a team of winners and Daniel has delivered just about every time he’s sat in race-winning equipment,” Marks said. "It’s my job now to put a car underneath him that will carry him to the highest echelon of the sport.”
Trackhouse has leased a charter from Spire Motorsports, which holds three charters that guarantee starting spots in the 40-car field each week.
Spire co-owner T.J. Puchyr said the team still plans to run a two-car operation in 2021.
“We’ve worked closely with Justin and his team for several years so we’re proud to help them get their program off the ground,” Puchyr said.
The financial model for team owners is expected to improve in 2022 when NASCAR converts to a new car that is epxected to lower costs. Prospective team owners have been bidding against one another for months trying to land charters to get into the sport; Marks has been on the losing end of several deals.
In leasing one of Spire's charters, he was able to officially launch Trackhouse and guarantee Suarez a spot in the Daytona 500 when the season opens next season.
“I see in Trackhouse a great opportunity for me with a very strong group of people that share the same vision, commitment and goals that I have,” Suárez said. “I have learned a lot in the last few years and have been very fortunate to be a part of very good organizations. I have learned that this sport is about people, and I know we are going to work very hard to put together a talented team. My goal is simple, I want to win races.”
The team will be led by industry veteran Ty Norris, a former executive with both Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Michael Waltrip Racing who will be the president of racing operations for Trackhouse.
Marks, who has competed in all three of NASCAR's national series as well as sports cars, said Trackhouse is committed to minorities. The Marks Family Foundation made a financial donation to help Trackhouse design an education initiative aimed “at exposing America’s underrepresented youth to career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math.”
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