By Jeff O'Brien

Team Penske found a one-year solution for Matt DiBenedetto while building a long-term plan to move Austin Cindric to the Cup Series.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – SEPTEMBER 27: Matt DiBenedetto, driver of the #21 Menards/Duracell Ford, looks on prior to the NASCAR Cup Series South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on September 27, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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.”

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA – SEPTEMBER 12: Austin Cindric, driver of the #22 PPG Ford, waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Virginia is for Racing Lovers 250 at Richmond Raceway on September 12, 2020 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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.

DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA – SEPTEMBER 06: Matt DiBenedetto, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford, waits on the grid prior to he NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 06, 2020 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – SEPTEMBER 26: Austin Cindric, driver of the #22 Menards/NIBCO Ford, 2020 Regular Season Championship trophy prior to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on September 26, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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.”

 

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