NASCAR Xfinity Series champ Austin Cindric to attempt Daytona 500 run

AVONDALE, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 07: Austin Cindric, driver of the #22 Menards/Richmond Ford, waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 at Phoenix Raceway on November 07, 2020 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Cindric, 22, will attempt to make his first NASCAR Cup Series start in a fourth car fielded by Team Penske.

Chase Elliott won’t be the only defending champion racing at Daytona in three weeks.

Team Penske has confirmed that Austin Cindric, the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, will attempt to appear in the upcoming Daytona 500. Cindric will drive a temporary fourth car for team owner Roger Penske, the No. 33 Ford. Veteran engineer Miles Stanley will serve as his crew chief.

“There is a lot to be excited about heading into Daytona,” Cindric said in a team-issued statement. “It doesn’t really even need to be said that the Daytona 500 is the biggest crown jewel race in NASCAR and one of the biggest races in the world, so to have a shot to be in the show while driving for Roger Penske is a big opportunity.”

Since the extra Penske car doesn’t have a charter, which guarantees entry and part of the final race purse, Cindric will have to race his way into the main event through one of the Bluegreen Vacations Duels on February 11 (7 p.m. ET, FS1). Other notable names in that situation include Cindric’s fellow Xfinity Series competitor Noah Gragson (likewise seeking to make his Cup debut in the No. 62 Beard Motorsports Chevrolet) and David Ragan, winner of the 2011 summer event at Daytona.

“Qualifying our way into the race as an open car will be a big challenge,” Cindric said. “I look forward to working with Miles and all of the guys on the No. 33 team, while also continuing my focus on winning back-to-back Xfinity Series Championships.”

Cindric, 22, remains the full-time driver of Penske’s No. 22 Ford on the Xfinity circuit. Last season’s championship run featured a dominant eight-race stretch over the summer where he won five races and finished no worse than third. His championship moment came in November at Phoenix, when he passed fellow championship contender Justin Allgaier for the win on the final lap of the Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200. He joined Cup compatriot Brad Keselowski (2010) as the only drivers to bring home an Xfinity title in a Penske vehicle. Cindric, the son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric, also placed third in the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standings.

Stanley joined Team Penske in 2013 and has worked as an engineer on Joey Logano’s No. 22 (2013-19) and Ryan Blaney’s No. 12 (2020). He helped Logano take home the 2018 Cup Series title, the second for Penske after Keselowski’s championship run six years prior.

The 2021 Daytona 500 will be run on February 14 (2:30 p.m ET, Fox) with the 300-mile Xfinity Series opening being staged the day before (5 p.m. ET, FS1).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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