Fueled by Rookies Austin Cindric and Harrison Burton, Ford’s Future is Quickly Approaching

Austin Cindric and Harrison Burton could be the future of Ford. After not being represented during the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 race at the end of the 2021 season and with Next Gen cars set to be introduced in ‘22, the manufacturer is receiving a reboot. 

It’s going fast. 

First-year drivers Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton pacing Ford’s reboot 

Paced by a pair of rookies, Cindric and Burton, Ford blazed through last week’s Next Gen car tests at Daytona International Speedway. 

Ford posted five of the top six timed spots over the two days of tests at the iconic 2.5-mile superspeedway.  

Burton registered the best time during the Day 1 test on Jan. 11. The Woods Brothers Racing machine’s top lap was clocked at 48.843 seconds, barely beating Cindric by .001 and Team Penske’s Joey Logano by .006. 

Cindric and Logano turned in the fastest laps during the second speed practice on Day 1, another time separated by .001. 

Cindric completed the four turns with a top time of 47.214 seconds. Logano was second at 47.215 and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who remains retired but begged his way into becoming a replacement test driver for Hendrick Motorsports, placed third at 48.004. 

On Day 2, Burton topped three Fords on Jan. 12. Burton’s top speed of 195.304 mph, outdistanced Cindric at 195.152. Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney placed third but was well off the leaders’ pace at 191.898.

Burton: ‘I’ll never turn down an opportunity to drive a race car’  

Ford drivers Austin Cindric (2) and Harrison Burton (21) race during the NASCAR Cup Series’ Next Gen car test at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 12, 2022, in Daytona Beach, Florida | James Gilbert/Getty Images

Cindric, who will drive the No. 2 Ford, is coming off consecutive strong Xfinity Series seasons. The 2020 drivers’ champion lost out on back-to-back titles via a photo finish. Burton, who will drive the No. 21 Ford, qualified for the Xfinity playoffs the past two seasons. He is the son of NBC Sports commentator and former NASCAR driver Jeff Burton. 

As part of the rookies’ introduction into the NASCAR premier series, the manufacturer selected Cindric and Burton to pilot a Ford Mustang GT4 for PF Racing during the Michelin Pilot Challenge. The four-hour event will be staged at Daytona on Jan. 28. 

During a Ford Performance Q&A session, Burton said the endurance road race could give him an edge entering Speedweeks.  

“Any seat time helps,” Burton said. “After Daytona (tests), I went right to the go-kart track and drove my shifter kart because I think it helps. This is no different.” 

The road race provides Burton with one more opportunity to prepare himself for the challenges that will certainly present in the premier series. Challenges that will require the rookie to keep his cool and remember his father’s training. 

“I’ll never turn down an opportunity to drive a race car, especially a fast Mustang like we’re gonna have,” Burton said.

Cindric drove a ‘fairly unconventional’ path to NASCAR Cup Series

To a number of drivers, road racing is a necessary evil. A trip to the dentist would be one way to describe the experience for some.

Not Cindric, who has been warned of common rookie pitfalls.

His early racing experiences centered on road and rally racing.

“My career path has been fairly unconventional …,” Cindric said.

Ford doesn’t mind. Not as long as he continues to turn laps as he did at Daytona last week. The manufacturer may need its prized rookies to race beyond their years in 2022.

Ford is not planning to miss out on another Championship 4 race.

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