PR-Cindric Moving to No. 2 Cup Car for 2022 - Press Conference Transcript Added
PR-AUSTIN CINDRIC SET TO DRIVE NO. 2 MUSTANG FOR TEAM PENSKE BEGINNING IN 2022 - Press Conference Transcript Added
Former Champion Brad Keselowski Will Depart Organization at End of 2021 Season
(Team Penske release) MOORESVILLE, N.C. (July 15, 2021) – Team Penske announced today that Austin Cindric, the defending NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) Champion and the current series points leader, will drive the famed No. 2 Team Penske Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Cup Series starting in 2022. This comes after Cindric was previously announced to transition to the Cup Series full-time next season driving the No. 21 for Wood Brothers Racing.
Concurrently, former NASCAR Cup Series Champion Brad Keselowski will depart Team Penske at the end of the 2021 season to pursue other opportunities within the sport.
“Austin is a champion and has proven his abilities both on and off the track.” said 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 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 has earned 12 Xfinity Series wins for Team Penske and currently leads the series point standings and tops in wins, top 10s, stage wins and laps led. He has also made six starts in the Cup Series in 2021, leading laps in three of those events. At COTA and Road America, Cindric qualified in the top-five and led laps in each race. He also led laps at the Daytona 500 while running in the top 10 for the majority of the race. Cindric will join teammates Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano to round out a strong NASCAR Cup Series lineup for Team Penske in 2022.
“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.”
Additionally, Team Penske announced that long-time partner Discount Tire will remain a key sponsor with the organization moving forward on both the No. 2 of Cindric and the No. 12 of Blaney in 2022. The remainder of Cindric’s partner lineup will be announced at a later date.
Team Penske Media Availability | Thursday, July 15, 2021
Team Penske announced this morning that Austin Cindric will take over as driver of the No. 2 Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Cup Series for 2022 and Brad Keselowski will be leaving the organization at the end of the season to pursue other opportunities. Owner Roger Penske joined Cindric to discuss the move with members of the media.
ROGER PENSKE, Owner, Team Penske -- WHAT WENT INTO THE DECISION OF CHANGING DIRECTION WITH AUSTIN FROM THE 21 TO THE 2 FOR NEXT YEAR? "I guess this really starts back with a meeting I had with Austin in my office when we talked about maybe going into the 21 car a year before he did -- before this announcement -- and said, 'Let's stay ahead and let's go back and really do what we can do best in Xfinity.' And what did he do? He produced a championship, turned around and came back this year and is leading the championship and there's no question with the strength that he's shown and also the commitment I would say is super strong, some of the best I've ever seen, and on the other hand the results stand for themselves. His experience. We've had him in the Cup car. He's had some good rides, running well at Daytona before the accident and we were not expecting, quite honestly, we would not be able to put a deal together with Brad, but we can talk about that later probably. This gave us a chance to step back and then you have the discussion with your key sponsor. Discount Tire has been a major player with us for a number of years and with the team and Discount Tire and we felt that was a very easy move for us. Brad really opened that up for Austin and I think with that move we wanted to announce it today. There's been lots of speculation, really, with Brad moving on and I think it helps him to take on his next stage in his career and then we can bring Austin up into the 2 car, and I think when you go back you look at Joey and you look at Blaney and you look at Brad, all these guys came up through this farm system you might call it, whether it's Busch or Xfinity and with that I think the process is working and I couldn't be prouder to say that he's gonna be the driver of the No. 2 car, and I think he's earned the respect. You come in as the son of the guy who is the president of Team Penske, you'd probably come in with a little bit of weight on your shoulders, but I can tell you one thing, as far as I'm concerned, all that's off. He's proven to be the driver he is, the individual he is today, so it's a long run, it's a big step for him, but as far as I'm concerned the team, the sponsors are fully committed."
WHAT HAS BRAD MEANT TO THE ORGANIZATION? "We'd expected to get Brad in for another two or three years based on the term that he probably wanted to race. Unfortunately, and good for him, quite honestly, he wanted to have ownership. The way we're structured it just wasn't available at Team Penske. But when you think about Brad and what he's done for us, together with 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 or Busch championship. The NASCAR champion, and then where he's run in the playoffs here lately, there couldn't be a better guy. His family, I have a lot to thank him for. I've got a picture in my office, in fact, with us in the winner's circle for the first championship that we ever had within in NASCAR for us on the Cup side, so I can always say he was a consistent performer, a very winning operation guy with our team. He 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."
AUSTIN CINDRIC, 2022 Driver, No. 2 Ford Mustang -- WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO TAKE OVER THE 2 CAR AND BE A FULL-TIME CUP DRIVER FOR TEAM PENSKE NEXT YEAR? "It means a great deal and obviously running the 2 car for Roger and Team Penske certainly comes with a great responsibility and obviously great heritage. I really appreciate the kind of words Mr. Penske shared about my career and my progression, but I wouldn't be here without Roger, without all the people at Team Penske for the last however many years I've been developing myself within this sport. I've obviously come a long way and I'm sure everyone in this room has seen a lot of that and it's been a lot of fun, and to be able to tackle this head-on and obviously have the whole season to prepare for the opportunity to go Cup racing. A year ago, it wasn't to drive the 2 car, it was to drive the 21 car. I've really valued the relationship that I've made with the Wood Brothers, but circumstances changed and I'm excited to tackle this head-on. Obviously, to have a partner like Discount Tire along with us and sticking with our company and with me behind the wheel of the car is pretty exciting. I've got a busy four months to try and put ourselves in position to win another Xfinity Series championship, but it's a lot of fun stuff on the board here for us."
ROGER PENSKE -- DID YOU CONSIDER MOVING BLANEY TO THE 2 CAR AND ARE THERE ANY CONCERNS OF PUTTING TIM'S SON IN THE 2 RIGHT AWAY. WOULD IT BE A LITTLE EASIER IN THE 12 OR 21? "Not at all. I think when you look at it, the history that Blaney's had in the 12 car, he's built a brand around the 12 and the sponsors around that 12 want to see that. There's never been, whether it's the 12, the 22 or the 2 as far as we're concerned, those are numbers and people are tied to those, but I think the move is the right move. Putting Austin there versus Blaney in the 2 car, I don't think it was even a question mark for us."
DID BRAD ASK FOR AN OWNERSHIP STAKE AND DID YOU THINK ABOUT IT? "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 that we have, it wouldn't work out and he understood that. I think 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. We were having negotiations, but COVID obviously slowed things down. We sat down and he and John Caponigro and had good discussions and basically the final meeting that we had he said that he had an opportunity that would give him ownership, and I said at that point that we wouldn't have that available. We'd go on. Obviously, to announce it earlier than we did today would have been difficult because we needed to get all of our ducks in a row on both sides, but it was amicable all the way, it still is. As I said earlier in my comments, Brad has done a hell of a job for us, and I think he'll bring a lot of value to Roush Yates in the future."
DID YOU LOOK OUTSIDE TEAM PENSKE FOR THE 2 OR WAS AUSTIN ALWAYS THE LOGICAL SUCCESSOR TO BRAD? "I think if you look at the history of Team Penske, the drivers that are driving for us have come up from the early stage, whether it's Busch or Xfinity or ARCA, what have you, and I think that's where we are. The other drivers, obviously there are people out there, and when the Brad news came out there were contacts within the team, but we wanted to stay on our strategy and I think it's gonna take time. This is not gonna be an overnight success, but I think the success of the team, whether it's here or Indy or whatever it is has been bringing people up and moving them up through the organization and that's the plan we're on. That's what we're gonna continue to try and strive for success that way."
WHAT ARE YOUR 2022 XFINITY PLANS? "When you look at Xfinity I'm really stepping back. It's been a great stepping stone for us. When you think about technical transfer the cars in Xfinity would really give us some good input tirewise, wheelwise., etc. for the Cup side. We've got to step back and look as we look at it into '22, along with the driver lineup we have now, what's the best thing for the team? We might run a car and have each one of our drivers have a chance to drive some races based on what the new rules will be, but that's gonna be a decision we'll make later in the year. We haven't really discussed that at the moment because Austin's got a big job to do. Matt's got a job to do over in the 21 and Brad is certainly in the running here as we go into the playoffs for '21."
DO YOU SEE DRIVERS BECOMING OWNERS AS A TREND, AND AS A BUSINESSMAN WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BRING PEOPLE UP WHILE LOSING SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN WITH YOU FOR A LONG TIME? "I'm gonna kid you a little bit, I'm gonna call Hendrick and see if he wants to buy my team since he's had all this success (laughing). No, I think, look, the good news about the current racing environment, the industry, is we've got a lot of business people growing up as drivers, as crew chiefs, as team managers. Look at it -- Knaus and Gordon and Keselowski now -- Hamlin. There's a changing of the guard, I think, on the athlete side. The technology is gonna change completely. As we go into the new car, we'll run them differently. They're almost gonna be the same. How we look at it structurally from an engineering perspective, so there's gonna be changing and I think these drivers don't want to drive forever. They want to have equity. They have knowledge and I think the team owners and other people do, so I think it's a changing of the guard maybe in the industry. The racing is changing. The formats are changing, so I think COVID has driven some of this maybe, but on the other hand I see it very positive for the sport."
HOW DO YOU LOOK AT YOUNG DRIVERS COMING UP? "I think you go back and you look at the history - Brad, Joey, Blaney, they didn't just shoot out of the gun the first year or the second year, but I think the background that they have, and we're going to the Next Gen car -- remember it's gonna be kind of a leveling of the playing field with the Next Gen car -- and I think with that there's gonna be a lot of learning for everybody, so I think that'll be a positive for them, but it's gonna take time. It's like any business you build, even in your own context and the things you do, these people are gonna have to get together and I think working together they're two young guys. We like that. We think that the history of Harrison and the Wood Brothers were involved in making that decision, along with the Ford Motor Company. We applaud it, and I think the fact that these two young guns will be able to work together will be fine. Joey and Blaney, I talked to them both. They're gonna have to take leadership roles within the team supporting both of these young guys."
AUSTIN CINDRIC -- WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOU WANTED THIS TO BE YOUR CAREER PATH AND DID YOU EVER THINK YOU WOULD GET HERE? "I can't say that I ever really imagined it possible. Running the Summer Shootout, I was just trying not to get dumped every weekend (laughing). Other than that, my career has taken me in a lot of different directions, whether that's racing open-wheel cars, sports cars, rallycross cars, I've never been picky, but my relationship with Ford really started in 2015 racing in IMSA and that's really carried me into my NASCAR career. It's important from Team Penske and it's all happened quite quickly, to be honest. Did I ever sit here and think one day I could be the driver of the 2 car? Probably not. I didn't think that was something that was attainable or reachable maybe at this stage in life. In my bedroom at my parent's house I still have a picture of Brad doing a burnout at Bristol signed by Brad Keselowski sitting on my bed. As a kid, you just grow up rooting on those guys and you don't really picture yourself being one of them, so, like we've talked about, there's plenty I need to learn. I feel like I've had a great opportunity this year to identify strengths and weaknesses that I have that I can apply and build on for next season, and with the Next Gen car I think that adds some similarities, but also some complications to being a rookie in Cup, so I'm excited for that challenge and excited to embrace this new role."
ROGER PENSKE -- WHAT HAS MADE YOU MORE COMFORTABLE OVER THE YEARS WITH HAVING YOUNGER DRIVERS ON YOUR ROSTER? "I think it really goes back to our model in business. We bring people in at the entry level. They work up through the organization. They know our mission plan. They understand our business partners. It's not just plugging in an athlete and saying, 'Let's go.' I think it's worked out. You can see what it's done for our business. It's been good on the Indy side, and certainly we see that on the Cup side, so I think it's just part of our plan. The same thing, look at crew chiefs. We've got people who were polishing wheels that are car chiefs or chief mechanics on our race team, so we don't want a lot of turnover. If you come in our shop, we've got a board that shows how many people have been there for 10 years. How many people for 20 years. If you look at it, more than half of the people that work for us have been on our racing team for 10 years or more, so I think it's part of our model and I'm excited about it. Look, on the other hand, I don't say it's a gamble, I think what it is is it's an opportunity."
AN OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU OR FOR THEM? "I think it's an opportunity for both of us. Certainly and opportunity for the driver, but, for us, I get my great feelings when we can take a business that you need to build and you put the people around it and then you see the success. It's not the dollars that come out at the end of the day, it's the success of the team and the people that are involved and I think this is a perfect example. We can show a Brad Keselowski, Helio Castroneves, McLaughlin now -- people like that -- Rick Mears. These are all people that have come up and look at Joe Gibbs and Hendrick and all the guys that we respect around today. They're building these teams from the ground up and I think that's why they're successful."
WHEN DID THE TALKS BEGIN ABOUT EXTENDING HIS DEAL AND WERE YOU PLANNING ON SIGNING HIM TO A MULTI-YEAR DEAL THIS TIME? "Let me go back. We started talking back in '20 about the future. I don't like to get up to three months before the end of the total contract, but we had COVID and it was around Christmas time and we kind of broke off and then we came back after the first of the year and got into the final, and that's when Brad and I talked about the decision he had obviously because he was open at that point knowing that we didn't have a deal yet. We were thinking about a three-year deal. We could extend it one year or go more. I offered a two-year deal, quite honestly, the year before and he took a one-year deal. So he had a two-year option. This wasn't a shotgun situation. 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 there's discussion. It doesn't help him. It doesn't help us. It confuses our fanbase, our sponsors and even the media, and I think that's one of the reasons we made the decision based on the announcement of Brad that we had, and then we could work on how we were gonna structure the team in the future. I think we've done it as quickly as we can and hopefully with transparency for everyone."
IT'S ASSUMED BRAD WILL BE GOING TO A COMPETITOR, ALBEIT POSSIBLY ANOTHER FORD TEAM, SO WILL HE BE EXCLUDED FROM TEAM COMPETITION MEETINGS? "As far as I'm concerned, we've got races to win. I want to win the championship with him. He's in the game. We would never do that. He's part of the team."
WHAT WILL YOU REMEMBER MOST ABOUT WHAT BRAD BROUGHT TO TEAM PENSKE? "He brought some tremendous credibility. Think about it. He's the winningest driver we've had in the company. He gave us a championship and the leadership on the Xfinity side early on and it really helped us build Discount Tire. I would say that's a real byproduct of Brad's commitment to them as a sponsor. Forget what he did on the racetrack. I look at that as key. His working with sponsors, and I think technically he really got into the details. Then he had his own team and I think he learned a little bit about being a team owner, and that even made him a better driver and things we could do to help support the team, so I see him as a broad placed brush across the whole organization -- sponsorship, delivering on the racetrack. I think he's a high integrity guy, which is very important with us and he helped us maintain a sponsor base. Look at Paul Wolfe and the people that he's worked with, Jeremy now, over time these are guys that have really supported him and he's supported their success too, so I look at him as a very broad based supporter and asset that we've had."
DID YOU HAVE ANY HAND IN WHAT MIGHT BE THE PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN BRAD AND ROUSH? "I had nothing to do with that. All that conversation took place with Brad. In fact, in the early stages, I'll be honest with you, we never even talked about who it might be, so I wasn't privy to that and then we came to a point where he said he had an opportunity that he could move on and have ownership and then over time who it was came out. You've read some of the same things that probably I know, but I had no conversation at all with anybody at any time with Roush Fenway."
OR FORD? "Or Ford."
AUSTIN CINDRIC -- HOW DIFFICULT WILL IT BE TO BE REPORTING TO YOUR DAD? "It's funny. Since we've had COVID all of our debriefs have been virtual and we've just now started rolling back into in-person debriefs and getting back into things. I've sat in all of the Cup debriefs since the beginning of the year and it was funny just walking in the boardroom and sitting across from the table from my dad, which turned into him giving me a hard time about something in front of everybody, but he's definitely the one to step out of the room when my name comes up, but, at the same time, look, we're just as competitive. I don't think we see it any differently if I was a driver with a different team or if it was a different driver sitting across from a table, so we're here to win races and, past that, it's how do we accomplish that?"
ROGER PENSKE -- YOUR ALLIANCE WITH THE WOOD BROTHERS GOES THROUGH 2022. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO KEEP THAT GOING BEYOND NEXT SEASON? "I would say that, for us, Leonard and Len and Eddie and Jon and the whole family, I've been associated with them back when Bobby Allison was driving the Wood Brothers car when we hit Bobby. We have a long-term relationship and I think that there should be no misnomer that the equipment that the Wood's have is as good or better than anything that the 2 or the 12 or the 22 are running, and I think the key thing here is that technical alliance that keeps a family and business that's been historically one of the key stakeholders in NASCAR together. We think the same. The Ford Motor Company relationship is very important. Obviously, Edsel was a big sponsor of the Wood Brothers and really helped us when I would say connecting with Ford early on, and I think we've lived up to our commitments to the Wood Brothers and they to us. We'll have a long-term relationship. It might say '22 right now, but mentally I see it longer than that."
IS THIS AS BRIGHT OF A FUTURE AS YOU'VE HAD ON THE NASCAR SIDE AT TEAM PENSKE? JOEY WILL BE YOUR ONLY DRIVER OVER 30. "I don't talk about age anymore myself, so I haven't added up everybody's age over there at the moment, but we're bringing young people in. I mentioned that earlier in one of my comments."
HOW DOES THIS CHANGE THE OUTLOOK YOU'VE HAD FOR TEAM PENSKE, IF AT ALL? "You get surprises all along in your business and athletic career. Brad had talked about ownership before. We're at a juncture here where you have a changing of the cars. It was a good time for him to decide, does he stay or does he go? I think at the point that we came to the decision he was gonna move on, it gave us a chance then to take a real step back and look and see do we start with new blood that really hadn't been there at all -- that didn't have a lot of history other than maybe driving in the lower series? And we decided to take that route."
AUSTIN CINDRIC -- ANY CHANCE BRIAN WILSON MOVES UP WITH YOU TO CUP? "That's a broader question than I can probably answer, but I think the goal for us is to give Brian and everybody on the 22 team the best shot at winning another championship. That's where my head's at and that's where my focus is for the next couple of months, so I feel like those guys have done a really great job. Brian has been with me since ARCA, so I feel like those guys on that car and that team have done a great job developing me and I hope they considered as far as moving forward within our company. Brian has been with the team for a really long time, actually, so I'm really appreciative of what he's done for me as well as a lot of those guys on the Xfinity program. I think they deserve a good look and I think their hard work has definitely paid off in my progression."
ROGER PENSKE -- WHAT DO SPONSORSHIP TALKS LOOK LIKE FOR NEXT YEAR? "We're gonna make our official announcements on sponsorships across all the cars. We'll do that as we get towards the end of the playoffs as we look into next year. A lot of this is a moving target, but Discount Tire, because of the 2 car situation, was very very important that we were aligned with Discount. They obviously have applauded this move and I think the Ford Motor Company, from what I understand from the Wood Brothers, is Quick Lane and those folks are well supportive of the move with Harrison into the 21."
AUSTIN CINDRIC -- HOW MUCH HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM BEING IN THE CUP ENVIRONMENT THIS YEAR FOR SOME SELECT RACES? "WIth the Next Gen car it's certainly going to be different, but it's still the same drivers, the same teams, the same level of professionalism that's at the highest level and, for me, it's like I said earlier, about identifying strengths and weaknesses. I feel like I've been able to really effectively do that with the schedule that we've put together this year in the 33 car, and I'm very grateful that I've had the opportunity to do that because I think it gets me jump started. I'm either going to be challenged with in the coming season or some of the things that might go well and I think a lot of that still has to depend on what the new car is like and how we're able to kind of sink our teeth into that, but there's never been a rookie to drive the 2 car in the Cup Series. I wouldn't say there's pressure with that, but I think there's definitely an expectation within the shop and I'm excited to embrace that role and be able to go out there and obviously try to win races for Team Penske."
ROGER PENSKE -- WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO CONTINUE TO BUILD A GREAT FUTURE FOR YOUR ORGANIZATION? "That's what I get my satisfaction from is as I said earlier was one of our businesses or on the race team. Racing has been the common thread to build our brand now for 50 years and I would say this is just a continuation of the mission plan. I think you take people, put them together and they meld and you don't want a lot of turnover. You want continuity that gives you the strength and, to me, it's exactly where we want to be. Look, there's never been more competition in all racing today as you see it both on the NASCAR side and certainly on the Indy side. I think that's very healthy for us because this sport is exciting and, to me, I think we're in the right place with Harrison being a partner with the Wood Brothers and his background, his family background, his relationship with the Wood's, and then also with Austin. But he earned it. I can tell you that as we went through this one of the questions, this wasn't just automatic, when we sat down here and decided what to do he hadn't won the championship in '20. Remember that. And he had to take it that maybe he might not get in the 21 car, but we sat down at that point and made the commitment. 'You go and finish the job that you have.' Take another year, which he did, obviously, won the championship, showing his strengths this year and he's got a lot more to learn there's no question, but why don't you take someone like that, that's already proven he's a young gun and I think as you've seen these other teams and the things that are evolving that it's a perfect chance for him."
Long-time RIS staffer, beginning in the mid-80s. Charlotte, NC area local contact.