CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) – Austin Cindric will replace 2012 NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski in Team Penske’s flagship No.2 Ford next season.

Roger Penske had planned to put the defending Xfinity Series champion in a Cup car next year lined up by Wood Brothers Racing in a technical alliance with Team Penske. Those plans were turned upside down when Keselowski decided to leave the Penske squad at the end of his 12th season with the organization, a move widely believed to happen but was not confirmed until Thursday.

Keselowski’s departure opened the iconic No.2 in-house seat to Cindric, the 22-year-old son of Penske team president Tim Cindric.

“Austin is a champion and has proven his abilities both on and off the track,” said team owner Penske. “The Cup Series is a big step for any rookie, but taking it now, in conjunction with the introduction of the new NextGen car, makes sense.”

Keselowski had not announced his plans for 2022 on Thursday, but he is believed to be moving to Roush Fenway Racing with a stake in that organization.

“The decision to part ways with the Penske team to seize a new opportunity and a new challenge was difficult, and I did not take it lightly,” Keselowski written on social networks. “I know I’m heading to the right place though, and I’m both excited and eager to share the details of what awaits me soon.”

Keselowski noted that when he arrived at Team Penske in 2010, the organization had achieved 65 Cup Series wins and was still looking for its first Cup title. He gave the championship to Roger Penske in his third season, has 34 of his 35 career wins with the team and is a perennial title contender.

He’s heading to Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as the reigning race winner, and he’s currently ranked 10th in the standings with a playoff qualifying victory.

“During our years together we have become a tremendous force,” said Keselowski. “Today, the team has over 130 Cup Series victories, two Xfinity championships and two Cup Series championships. I am so proud to have played a part in these victories and milestones. “

Cindric, meanwhile, was set to replace Matt DiBenedetto in the Wood Brothers No.21 Ford. This seat will now go to Xfinity series pilot Harrison Burton.

Austin Cindric celebrates after winning a NASCAR Xfinity Series car race at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Long Pond, Pa.

Burton is the 20-year-old son of retired runner and NBC Sports analyst Jeff Burton. He won four races last season and is currently fifth in the Xfinity Series standings.

Cindric has 12 career Xfinity wins and leads the championship standings. He has already made six Cup starts this year with a view to next season.

“The # 2 car is iconic to this sport and is a number that represents the foundation of this team,” said Cindric. “It is a great honor and a great responsibility to continue in this role.”

The reshuffle puts DiBenedetto out of action after two years in No.21. He made the playoffs last season and had hoped to retain his seat with Keselowski’s imminent departure.

The journeyman driver posted a nine minute video vent his frustration at losing another race. DiBenedetto said the No.21 squad had been ‘broken’ for some time, but had hoped that a recent change in team leader would improve performance and help him keep his job.

“It’s good to have human emotions,” DiBenedetto said in his video. “That doesn’t make it bad.”

Wood Brothers co-owner Eddie Wood said the decision to go with Burton had him paired with Cindric as two young Cup rookies as NASCAR rolled out a new car.

“Everyone who drives for us is family,” said Wood. “Matt is still part of the family.

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More AP auto races: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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