Austin Cindric has been officially named the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year following the Cup Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, November 6.
The news comes as the 24-year-old Cindric from Mooresville, North Carolina, has completed his first full-time campaign in NASCAR’s premier series piloting the No. 2 Ford Mustang for Team Penske led by veteran crew chief Jeremy Bullins. Prior to this season, he had made his first seven career starts in the Cup Series in 2021 with the Penske organization, which included the 63rd running of the Daytona 500.
Cindric was named a full-time Cup Series competitor for this season, where he replaced the 2012 Cup champion, Brad Keselowski, as Keselowski became a driver and co-owner of the newly named Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing. By then, Cindric had spent the previous four seasons in the Xfinity Series, where he accumulated 13 victories and the 2020 series championship, which occurred while driving for Team Penske. He also had one Truck Series career victory under his belt coming at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in 2017, where he went on to finish in third place in the final standings while driving for Brad Keselowski Racing.
Cindric commenced his rookie Cup campaign and his first in the No. 2 car on a high note by fending off teammate Ryan Blaney, Keselowski and Bubba Wallace during an overtime attempt to win the 64th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in February and earn his first career victory in NASCAR’s premier series. In doing so, Cindric became the ninth different competitor to win his first Cup career event in the 500, the 41st to win the event overall and the second-youngest competitor to win it at age 23 as he also recorded the third 500 victory overall for Team Penske.
Cindric backed up his Daytona 500 triumph by scoring his first Cup career pole position at Auto Club Speedway, where he went on to finish 12th. Amid an up-and-down regular-season stretch, his additional highlights included notching a strong runner-up result at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in July along with two third-place results, one of which included the regular-season finale at Daytona in August. In total, he earned five top-five results and eight top-10 results throughout the 26-race regular-season stretch before entering the 2022 Cup Playoffs as one of 16 competitors battling for this year’s title. By then, he was also the lone rookie Cup competitor to make the Playoffs.
Despite achieving three consecutive top-20 results during the Round of 16, Cindric managed to transfer into the Round of 12. His first Playoff run came to an end, however, following the Round of 12 after finishing 15th, ninth and 21st, respectively. During the Round of 12 finale at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course in October, he was in position of transferring to the Round of 8 before a late spin during an overtime attempt spoiled his opportunity as he ended up outside of the top 20 in the final running order. With his title hopes for this season evaporated, Cindric went on to post four consecutive top-30 results during the final four scheduled events, including an 11th-place result during the season finale at Phoenix Raceway, before capping off the season in 12th place in the final standings.
With his accomplishment, Cindric became the first competitor to capture the Cup rookie title while representing Team Penske since veteran Ryan Newman made the last accomplishment in 2002. This also marks the third consecutive season where a Ford competitor captured a rookie title in NASCAR’s premier series after Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer and Chase Briscoe claimed the title in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
Cindric’s main rivals for this year’s Cup rookie title included fellow Ford competitors Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland, both of whom finished 27th and 28th, respectively, in the final standings.
With the completion of his first full-time campaign in NASCAR’s premier series, Cindric is slated to remain in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford for next season as part of a multiyear basis.
The NASCAR Cup Series competitors and teams enter an off-season period before returning to action at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash on February 5, 2023. This event will be followed by the 65th annual running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, which will occur on February 19, 2023, and officially commence a new season of Cup Series competition.