When the green flag waved on the 2018 NASCAR XFINITY Series (NXS) season at Daytona International Speedway back in February, Team Penske was poised to add to its recent success in the series and build on the momentum from a championship-winning 2017 campaign. The goal in 2018 for Team Penske’s decorated NXS program was simple, win as many races as possible, compete for the organization’s fifth NXS Owner’s title and earn a spot in the Playoffs for rookie driver Austin Cindric. The teams proved to be up for all these tasks this past season, facing and overcoming some challenges along the way.
Over the course of the 2018 season, crew chief Brian Wilson and the No. 22 Ford Mustang team and crew chief Matt Swiderski and the No. 12 Ford Mustang team prepared race-winning cars for five different drivers. Working with multiple drivers was nothing new for the Team Penske NXS program, but planning for different driving styles and setup preferences from week to week is always a challenge. Both the No. 22 and No. 12 teams made the most of their opportunities this season as the NXS program overall recorded six victories, seven pole positions, 20 top-five finishes and 30 top-10 results in 42 starts, while fighting for the series championship.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champions Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski both competed in select races in the No. 22 Ford Mustang. The 2018 Team Penske NXS driver lineup also included Ryan Blaney, Paul Menard and talented series rookie Cindric, who emerged as a title contender.
For Logano, the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, the NXS season began with a tough result at Daytona following an accident that ended his season debut race early. Logano and the team quickly rebounded and finished second the following weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. In all, Logano competed in five NXS races in 2018 – all with the No. 22 Ford Mustang team. He earned two victories – one at Auto Club Speedway in March with the Discount Tire Ford and at the Watkins Glen International road course in August while racing the Snap-on Tools Mustang. Logano proved to be consistently productive as the Middletown, CT native captured four top-five finishes and one pole position, while leading 210 laps in his five NXS starts.
Keselowski also raced in five NXS events in 2018 as he split his starts between both the No. 22 Ford and the No. 12 Mustangs, which competed in select races in 2018 led by Swiderski. For Keselowski, the 2010 NASCAR XFINITY Series champ and the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series titlewinner, the season began with his usual consistency. He scored two victories in his first two starts with the No. 22 team, as he won at Phoenix in the fourth race of the season and then again at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. The native of Rochester Hills, Mich. added a September win at Darlington in his final NXS race of the season as he posted impressive totals of three victories, two poles and four top-five finishes across his five series races in 2018.
For the second consecutive season, Blaney posted an XFINITY Series win for Team Penske as he drove to victory in the No. 22 Ford in April at Texas Motor Speedway. The win marked the third in a row for the No. 22 team, following victories by Keselowski and Logano, in a remarkable run. Blaney dominated in his win at the Lonestar track, as he won the pole and led 132 of the 200 race laps. Blaney’s four-race NXS campaign was strong, as he produced an impressive average finishing position of 3.0 in his four 2018 starts and he never finished lower that fourth place. In his final NXS race of the season, Blaney captured the pole position at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in September before he recorded a third-place finish.
In his first season with Team Penske, Paul Menard also made his mark as he competed in four races with the No. 22 team. The Wisconsin native was also consistent as he compiled four top-10 finishes. His best result came at Michigan in June when he drove the No. 22 Menards/Richmond Mustang to a fifth-place finish.
NASCAR’s 2018 participation guidelines, designed to further highlight the young talent in the sport by limiting the number of NXS races for full-time veteran MENCS drivers, created more opportunities for Cindric this season and the young gun made the most of it. After Cindric made his XFINITY Series debut at Road America for Team Penske in 2017, he earned the chance for more starts with the team. The 20-year-old racer shined in his 24 starts for Team Penske in 2018, as he captured a valuable spot in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Playoffs.
For Cindric, his rookie season was quite different from his fellow NXS competitors. While he completed for a full season, he actually raced for two different organizations, and three different teams. The rookie racer made nine starts for Roush-Fenway Racing, he competed in eight races driving the No. 12 Ford for Team Penske and he also made 16 starts in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, including a championship run to close the season.
Cindric demonstrated a knack for performing with consistency in a changing environment as he worked with three different crew chiefs in two different shops over the course of the season. Cindric earned three poles in the No. 22 Mustang as he was the top qualifier at Iowa, Mid-Ohio and the Charlotte Roval for Team Penske. He also posted impressive results on the NXS road courses as he earned podium finishes at Mid-Ohio (season-best second place) and the Charlotte Roval (third). He was also running up front at Road America in August before engine issues brought an early end to his race.
The Mooresville, NC native finished his rookie NXS campaign with seven top-five and 13 top-10 finishes to go along with three poles and an eighth-place finish in the NXS Playoffs standings. Cindric was the youngest of the 12 drivers to make the series postseason. Team Penske and team partner MoneyLion also announced during the season that the future remains bright for Cindric as the young gun will compete in the No. 22 Ford full time in 2019, with an opportunity to race for both a driver’s championship, as well as the team’s fifth NXS Owners title.
“I think it’d be hard to sum of 2018 in a few words,” said Cindric. “At some points in the year it was incredibly frustrating and at some points of the year it was incredibly rewarding. I think we ended the year on a high note with what we were able to do in the Playoffs. I wish we would have been able to transfer to the Championship 4. To think all that I learned and all that I overcame throughout the year – things I didn’t expect to happen – and the lessons that I learned are things that I think are unique only to my experience. I think that will be an advantage for me heading into 2019 with the same group of guys and same support system and being able to capitalize on that kind of an opportunity.”
While Team Penske fell just short of securing another Owner’ Championship, the NXS program enjoyed a stellar and memorable season in 2018. The stage is set for another strong title run heading into 2019 and with Cindric set to build on his rookie success in his sophomore season with the team, the path has been charted for Team Penske to continue its NXS winning tradition moving forward.