By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
For the first time since 2010, there will only be one man in the No. 22 Ford Mustang, and it’ll be the polarizing 20-year-old Austin Cindric, who was announced Thursday as Team Penske’s full-time driver in the Xfinity Series next season.
After switching back-and-forth in Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 60 Ford and both Penske’s No. 12 and No. 22 entries all throughout his rookie campaign, the son of Team Penske President Tim Cindric, said the opportunity of racing in a single car next season is a huge career move and grateful the team has confidence in him.
“I have had such a unique opportunity this year to learn from so many people, and to learn quite a lot in a short amount of time,” said Cindric. “To have the chance to apply that experience for a full season with Team Penske in 2019 is a huge step in my career. I am so grateful for the confidence Mr. Penske, the 22 team, Ford Performance, Team Penske and all of their partners have put in me. I can’t wait to see what we’ll be able to accomplish together.”
Although still in contention for a Championship 4 berth, Cindric’s campaign has had its share of ups and downs, scoring two poles, five top-fives (all for Penske) and 11 top-10s, but a rash of bad luck and shortcomings that’s highlighted with seven retirements has also made the transition from Trucks to Xfinity excruciating.
To keep his title hopes alive, the man sitting eighth in points is in a must-win situation heading into Saturday’s Whelen Trusted to Perform 200 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, trailing Daniel Hemric, who holds the fourth and final spot, by 61 points.
Despite facing the pressure Cindric has endured, that hasn’t stopped owner Roger Penske’s confidence on the Mooresville native, who said he has earned the opportunity of running its flagship car that won a driver’s championship with Brad Keselowski in 2010 and four owner’s titles, including four out of the last five seasons.
“Austin has done a solid job in his rookie season in the Xfinity Series under some tough circumstances. He has earned the opportunity to compete full time and fight for the championship in 2019,” said Penske. “We are excited to continue to see him develop his stock car skills and he should be one of the exciting young drivers to watch next season.”
Also announced was the No. 12, which Cindric drove in eight races with a fourth-place at Pocono being his best, will be shared by four drivers on a part-time basis next season by Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Paul Menard.