Transaction Analysis: What to expect from Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton

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NASCAR on NBC Sports 15 July, 2021 - 01:30pm 2 views

What car will Brad Keselowski drive next year?

On Thursday, Team Penske announced that 2020 Xfinity Series Champion Austin Cindric will drive the team's No. 2 Ford in 2022 to replace Brad Keselowski, who will leave Penske after a decade with the organization. CBSSports.comAustin Cindric replacing Brad Keselowski at Team Penske in 2022 while Harrison Burton moves to Wood Brothers

In a Zoom news conference Thursday afternoon, Penske told reporters he originally offered a two-year deal during the 2020 season to Keselowski, who instead returned to the team in ’21 by signing his second consecutive one-year contract last August. Negotiations began around Christmas 2020 about extending the 2012 Cup champion beyond this year. Keselowski’s request for ownership resulted in the talks ending, and Penske moving to Austin Cindric, who was announced Thursday as Keselowski’s replacement.

“This was not a disagreement or anything else,” Penske said. “This was a business decision made on both sides fairly and squarely. Quite honestly, Brad will be a friend of the family and team forever.

BRAD SPEAKS: Keselowski’s thoughts on the end of his Team Penske run

“He and I talked about this over the years. There was discussion that long term he’d like to have ownership in the team, but the way we’re structured at Penske Corp. and the subsidiaries we have, it wouldn’t have worked out. He understood that. The final meeting we had, he said he had the opportunity to give him ownership. It was amicable all the way. Brad’s done a hell of a job. He will bring a lot of value to Roush Yates in the future.”

Though it has yet to be announced, Keselowski reportedly has a deal to drive for Roush Fenway Racing that includes an ownership stake.

Penske said he had hoped to re-sign Keselowski, 37, to a three-year deal.

“This wasn’t a shotgun situation,” Penske said. “It was well planned, well managed and we came to the decision. The unfortunate thing is when you make those decisions, it’s early in the season, and then things leak out, and it doesn’t help him, it doesn’t help us. It confuses our fan base, our sponsors and even the media, and it’s one of the reasons we made the decision based on the announcement of Brad that we had to work out how are we going to structure the team in the future. I think we’ve done it as quickly as we can with transparency for everyone.”

On a Zoom, Roger Penske addressing today's news that @AustinCindric will replace Brad @keselowski in the No. 2 Ford.

"We were not expecting quite honestly that we would not be able to put together a deal with Brad." Said he wanted to get Keselowski in "for another 2-3 years." pic.twitter.com/VHXEH67jop

— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) July 15, 2021

With Keselowski having qualified for the playoffs through his victory at Talladega Superspeedway, Penske said the team would remain fully committed to Keselowski being a championship contender and wouldn’t be excluding him from any competition meetings for the rest of the season (as is often the case with drivers in lame-duck seasons).

“We’ve got races to win,” Penske said. “I want to win the championship with him. He’s in the game. We would never do that. He’s part of the team.”

In 12 seasons with Team Penske, Keselowski had 67 victories (34 in Cup, 33 in Xfinity). He brought the team its first NASCAR championship by winning the Xfinity title 2010 and then delivered its first Cup crown two years later.

Penske said he keeps a framed photo in his house of Keselowski in the winner’s circle after the first NASCAR title. Calling the driver “a student of the sport,” Penske credited Keselowski with helping build its Discount Tire sponsorship and said “we’re sorry to see him go.

“He brought tremendous credibility,” Penske said. “He’s the winningest driver we’ve had in the company. He gave us championships and the leadership on the Xfinity side early on. Technically, he really got into the detail. Then he had his own team and learned a little bit about being a team owner and that even made him a better driver.

“I see him as a broad brush across the organization: Sponsorship. Delivered on the racetrack. High integrity guy and helped us maintain the sponsor base. Look at (2011-19 crew chief) Paul Wolfe and the people that he’s worked with, (crew chief) Jeremy (Bullins). These are guys that supported him, and he’s supported their success, too. I look at him as a very broad-based support and asset we’ve had.”

Read full article at NASCAR on NBC Sports

Austin Cindric to replace Keselowski in Penske’s No. 2

RACER 16 July, 2021 - 10:01am

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Team Penske confirmed Thursday that Brad Keselowski will move on from the organization, announcing that Austin Cindric will drive the No. 2 Ford Mustang beginning in 2022.

Cindric was previously announced as the next driver for Wood Brothers Racing. However, rumors began to surface in the last few months that former series champion Keselowski was set to depart Penske for Roush Fenway Racing. Cindric, the reigning Xfinity Series champion, has been running a limited schedule this season with Penske in preparation of his full-time move into the series.

“Austin is a champion and has proven his abilities both on and off the track,” said team owner Roger Penske. “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 joins Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano in the Team Penske stable.

Discount Tire will remain a team sponsor on both the No. 2 for Cindric and the No. 12 for Blaney. The remainder of Cindric’s partner line-up will be announced at a later date.

“Throughout my NASCAR career, I’ve grown a lot as a driver and an individual,” said Cindric. “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.”

Cindric has won 12 races for Team Penske in 118 races in the Xfinity Series. He has finished no worse than eighth in the point standings, including winning the championship last season, and is the current point leader with a series-leading four wins.

Kelly has been on the NASCAR beat full-time since 2013, and joined RACER as chief NASCAR writer in 2017. Her work has also appeared in NASCAR.com, the NASCAR Illustrated magazine, and NBC Sports. A corporate communications graduate from Central Penn College, Crandall is a two-time George Cunningham Writer of the Year recipient from the National Motorsports Press Association.

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2022 moves: Austin Cindric replacing Brad Keselowski at Team Penske as Harrison Burton will drive the No. 21

Yahoo Sports 16 July, 2021 - 10:01am

Dan Wetzel, Pat Forde, Pete Thamel

The team announced Thursday that Austin Cindric would take over for Keselowski in 2022. Keselowski has been reported to move to Roush Fenway Racing as a part-owner at the end of the season. Keselowski would reportedly drive the No. 6 car and become a driver-owner like Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart have done in recent seasons. 

Cindric, the defending Xfinity Series champion, had been tabbed to drive the No. 21 car for the Penske-affiliated Wood Brothers in 2022. He moves over to the No. 2 now that Keselowski is leaving the team.

“Austin is a champion and has proven his abilities both on and off the track.” Roger Penske said in a statement. “The Cup Series is a big step for any rookie but making this move now, in conjunction with the introduction of the new NextGen 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's move to Team Penske next season means that the Wood Brothers need a driver. And that driver is not going to be Matt DiBenedetto. The team said that Harrison Burton would drive the No. 21 car in 2022. Burton currently drives for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series and is the son of former Cup Series driver and current NBC analyst Jeff Burton.

“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,” WBR co-owner Eddie Wood said in a statement. “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."

Keselowski issued a statement about his departure from Penske not long after the moves were announced. 

He’s regressed in 2021 after signing with the team for another season. DiBenedetto has just five top 10s in 21 races and is currently 18th in the points standings and out of the provisional playoff field. DiBenedetto’s average finish (18.2) is 4.2 spots worse than it was in 2020.

Would a better 2021 have saved DiBenedetto's job at WBR? Probably not. He knew in October that he wasn't going to be back with the team in 2022 after Team Penske announced that Cindric would take over the No. 21 in 2022. Obviously the plans changed with Cindric. But nothing changed with DiBenedetto — at least publicly. Maybe he thought he had a chance to stay again with Keselowski's departure.

If that chance existed, it didn't become reality. And it's hard to say where DiBenedetto goes from here. At least in the Cup Series. Nearly every top-tier and mid-tier ride is filled ahead of the 2022 season. The only available option at the moment appears to be the second Trackhouse car alongside Daniel Suarez. Trackhouse recently bought Chip Ganassi Racing and could also keep Ross Chastain in the fold for 2022. 

Now that it's official that Keselowski is departing Team Penske, it's time to wonder how the public news will affect the team's run to the title. Keselowski has been a perennial title contender since he won the 2012 championship and should be in the mix again in 2021 if the team can find some speed.

We've seen lame-duck teams have success before. Furniture Row Racing made the final four with Martin Truex Jr. in the team's last season in 2018, and Jeff Gordon raced for the title in his final season — though that wasn't a comparable situation. 

Keselowski enters Sunday’s race at New Hampshire with one win and is 10th in the points standings. He has just eight top-10 finishes in 2021. 

In a statement, Brad Keselowski reflected on his tenure with Team Penske, which will end at the conclusion of this NASCAR Cup Series season.

The long breakup between Roger Penske and Brad Keselowski was finalized Thursday when Austin Cindric was named driver of the flagship No. 2, replacing the driver who won Team Penske its first Cup championship. Keselowski had a prolonged contract negotiation a year ago that netted him only a one-year extension and salary cut, and Team Penske said around the same time it would move Cindric up to the Cup Series to drive for partner Wood Brothers Racing. Keselowski has since tested the market and told Penske he was looking for an ownership stake in a Cup team.

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Brad Keselowski speaks on leaving Team Penske at season’s end

NASCAR on NBC Sports 16 July, 2021 - 10:01am

Team Penske confirmed Keselowski’s exit from the organization earlier Thursday, along with Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric’s move into Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford. Additionally, Harrison Burton will replace Matt DiBenedetto in the No. 21 Ford at Penske-aligned Wood Brothers Racing.

Keselowski has driven for the organization since 2010. That year, he gave Roger Penske his first NASCAR championship when he won the Xfinity Series title. Two years later in 2012, he brought Team Penske its first Cup Series crown.

Other milestones that Keselowski has achieved with Team Penske include “crown jewel” victories in the 2018 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, the 2018 Southern 500 at Darlington and the 2020 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

He also claimed Team Penske’s milestone 500th win across all motorsports series in September 2018 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Altogether, Keselowski has earned 67 victories for Team Penske, making him the organization’s all-time wins leader.

As part of the statement, Keselowski noted that “making the decision to part ways with Team Penske to embrace a new opportunity and challenge was a difficult one, and one I did not take lightly.

“I know I am leaving in a good place though,” he continued, “and I am both excited and eager to share the details of what’s next for me soon.”

His full statement can be seen below.

— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) July 15, 2021

Penske confirms Keselowski exit

RACER 16 July, 2021 - 10:01am

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Team Penske confirmed Brad Keselowski’s impending departure on Thursday, which was something Roger Penske wasn’t expecting he’d have to do.

“We were not expecting, quite honestly, that we would not be able to put a deal together with Brad,” Penske said.

But the former series champion is likely headed to Roush Fenway Racing, where he’ll have an ownership stake in the team. The wait continues for official confirmation.

Ownership was the sticking point between Penske and Keselowski, who had been in negotiation for Keselowski to remain in the No. 2 Ford Mustang, which he’s driven since 2011. Thirty-four of Keselowski’s 35 wins in the NASCAR Cup Series have come with Penske, and they also won the 2010 Xfinity Series championship and the 2012 Cup Series championship.

“We’d expected to get Brad in another two or three years based on the term that he probably wanted to race,” Penske said. “Unfortunately, and good for him quite honestly, he wanted to have ownership, and the way we’re structured, that just wasn’t available at Team Penske.

“When you think about Brad, what he’s done for us (in) Xfinity and Cup, he’s got over 75 race wins, he’s the leader in the clubhouse from a team perspective. Our first Xfinity championship, the NASCAR championship, and then where he’s run in the playoffs here lately, couldn’t be a better guy. I have a lot to thank him for. I can always say he was a consistent performer, a very winning operation guy with our team. Brought a lot to it. He was a student of the sport, and we’re sorry to see him go, but on the other hand, we’ve got a season to finish out. This was not a disagreement or anything else, this was a business decision that was made on both sides fairly and squarely, and quite honestly, Brad will be a friend of the family and a friend of the team forever.”

Keselowski’s desire to have an ownership stake in the Penske organization was not an unexpected development. Penske acknowledged he and Keselowski had discussed it over the years.

“But the way we’re structured at Penske Corp. and the subsidiaries that we have, it wouldn’t work out, and he understood that,” Penske said. “I think that as we came to the end of our contract at the end of last year, obviously he looked to see what was there, I’m sure.

“Basically, the final meeting we had, he said that he had an opportunity that would give him ownership, and I said that we wouldn’t have that available. It was amicable all the way. It still is. Brad has done a hell of a job for us, and I think that he’ll bring a lot of value to Roush Yates in the future.”

Initial discussion between the two began in late 2020 and then picked back up after the holidays. Penske said Keselowski was “open at that point” with no deal in place, and they were thinking about a three-year extension. Penske also noted that the last time Keselowski’s contract was being worked on, he was offered a two-year deal, and Keselowski took one year. That new agreement was announced in August.

“So, this wasn’t a shotgun situation,” said Penske. “It was well-planned, well managed, and we came to the decision.”

In a statement posted on social media, Keselowski reflected on his time with Penske and said it “was a difficult” decision to part ways. Keselowski also said he is eager to share “what’s next for me soon.”

— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) July 15, 2021

Kelly has been on the NASCAR beat full-time since 2013, and joined RACER as chief NASCAR writer in 2017. Her work has also appeared in NASCAR.com, the NASCAR Illustrated magazine, and NBC Sports. A corporate communications graduate from Central Penn College, Crandall is a two-time George Cunningham Writer of the Year recipient from the National Motorsports Press Association.

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Friday 5: Youth movement growing stronger in Cup Series

NASCAR on NBC Sports 16 July, 2021 - 10:01am

Last month, Kaulig Racing announced that 22-year-old Justin Haley will drive one of its Cup cars full-time next season.

It could work well for Team Penske, which will become younger with Cindric replacing Brad Keselowski after this season.

Six drivers under the age of 30 have won at least one race this season to earn a playoff spot: Larson, Elliott, Byron, Bowman, Blaney and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell.

A key to the movement is how well organized development programs are. Toyota’s TD2 development program is rooted in analytics and sports science principles and has a deep pipeline of talent. The development program has helped grow Toyota’s driver lineup throughout NASCAR, but the manufacturer’s limited seats in various series have led to some of its drivers moving elsewhere.

Burton is the latest who will move beyond the Toyota developmental program, which he’s been a part of since he was 13 years old.

Others from the Toyota chain now racing elsewhere include Larson, Daniel Suarez (Trackhouse Racing) and Erik Jones (Richard Petty Motorsports). Those who came from Toyota’s development program in its Cup lineup are Bell and Bubba Wallace (23XI Racing).

Well said and we remain committed to #TD2. We are proud to have played a role @HBurtonRacing's development and success thus far. We can only be happy for him and his family and wish him well. Harrison will always be a friend to @ToyotaRacing #TeamToyota https://t.co/UYeI7k3Oca

— David Wilson (@DavidWilsonTRD) July 15, 2021

Ford’s development program has paved the way for Chase Briscoe, Cole Custer and now Cindric to move to Cup.

The Wood Brothers are becoming accustomed to having young drivers. Trevor Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500 at age 20. Blaney scored his first Cup win with the team when he was 23 years old.

News keeps getting better, @HendrickAuto is supporting my dirt racing! pic.twitter.com/h0Yzolljkk

— Kyle Larson (@KyleLarsonRacin) July 14, 2021

One of the tracks that is viewed as being helped by the addition of traction compound in the corners is New Hampshire Motor Speedway. NASCAR, though, won’t apply traction compound for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

That’s the case because the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races before the Xfinity Series event and its tires don’t work as well with the traction compound.

Traction compound will be applied before Sunday’s Cup race.

Noah Gragson said not having the traction compound is significant. He said the key in the Xfinity race will be “who can figure it out sooner just because it hasn’t been that way for us for a while.”

The traction compound has been used at New Hampshire Motor Speedway since 2017.

Modified racer Doug Coby explained on social media this week the challenge the traction compound presents for that series:

1) We used to push the outside groove out further as the race went on. As we got more aggressive with each other the outside was more forgiving. The pj1 has narrowed the track for us and prevented the outside cars from racing as we normally would

— Doug Coby (@doug_coby) July 14, 2021

2) the track bite has created a “no mans land” in the middle of the 2 strips of bite in the corners. There’s zero RF grip in between the two strips. You only get grip when you slide into the second strip or into someone’s door.

— Doug Coby (@doug_coby) July 14, 2021

The Cup series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Sunday’s race (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Eleven of the past 12 New Hampshire winners were either Cup champions when they won or later became series champions. The last 12 winners there:

July 2015 – Kyle Busch

Sept. 2016 – Kevin Harvick

July 2017 – Denny Hamlin (only driver without a Cup title on this list)

Keselowski explains 'difficult' decision to leave Penske

autosport.com 15 July, 2021 - 12:17pm

The 2012 Cup series champion, who gave Penske its first title in NASCAR's premier division, has driven for the team since the end of 2009 following his breakthrough victory at Talladega earlier that year with Phoenix Racing.

But following speculation that he will become a co-owner in a new Roush-Fenway-Keselowski Cup team, it was announced earlier today that Keselowski will depart Team Penske at the end of the season, with reigning Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric replacing him in the #2 Ford in 2022.

In a statement, Keselowski said his time driving for Penske was a “tremendous opportunity” and that he was “proud” of their success together, which also included the 2010 Xfinity title.

On the subject of the reason of why he is leaving Penske now, the 2020 championship runner-up said it was to “embrace a new opportunity”, without elaborating further.

He said: “Making the decision to part ways with Team Penske to embrace a new opportunity and challenge was a difficult one, and one I did not take lightly. I know that I am leaving in a good place though, and I am both excited and eager to share the details of what’s next for me soon.

“Right now, my focus remains on winning more races in 2021 and giving it my all to take down our second championship.”

Brad Keselowski, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Discount Tire

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

The 37-year-old has run his own team before. Brad Keselowski Racing was a regular in the NASCAR Truck Series between 2007 and 2017, when Cindric finished third in the standings. It's best championship finish was second in 2015 with Tyler Reddick.

At the point of closing his Truck team, Keselowski remained hopeful that he would one day own a car in the Cup Series, and a collaboration as a team co-owner with Roush Fenway Racing is expected to be confirmed shortly.

The team initially founded by Jack Roush won back-to-back Cup titles with Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch in 2003 and 2004, but hasn't mounted a strong title challenge since Carl Edwards lost to Tony Stewart on countback of wins after the pair finished level on points in 2011.

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