An unexpected turn of events finds one driver’s retirement to become another racer’s dream come true. Earlier, the Wood Brothers Racing organization announced that Paul Menard would be retiring from full-time racing in 2020, opening the door for the undaunted Matt DiBenedetto to take over the No. 21 Ford in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series.
“I’ve enjoyed every moment of my career racing in the NASCAR Cup Series,” Menard said, “And I’m so thankful for all the great memories and friendships I’ve made through this sport. But I’m looking forward to spending more time at home with my wife, Jennifer, and our two young children while moving forward with the next chapter of my life. I’m excited for what the future holds and I’m looking forward to sharing the plans for 2020 and beyond in the coming weeks.”
Menard joined the legendary organization in 2018 after Ryan Blaney moved to Team Penske, earning one pole and 11 top-10 finishes since his move from Richard Childress Racing. The 39 year old has just one victory under his belt, but considering his family history, it was quite the crown jewel celebration: the 2011 Brickyard 400.
“We want to thank Paul Menard for his dedication to the team over the last two seasons. We’re looking forward to a strong finish to 2019 and we wish him nothing but the best for the future,” said team President and Co-Owner Eddie Wood. “All of us at Wood Brothers Racing are excited to welcome Matt DiBenedetto to the team beginning next season. Matt has shown a lot of promise on track and everyone has seen it in his results this season, especially over the past several months. We want to continue to build on that success together as we gear up for 2020 and the future of Wood Brothers Racing.”
While some wait to see what Menard’s potential racing plans are for the coming years, the focus quickly turned to DiBenedetto as it was announced in the same press release that he would be taking over the reigns next season. If you’ve followed his journey from his start with BK Racing, you’ll know DiBenedetto’s ladder has been much different to climb compared to others throughout the sport.
“I am so excited about this opportunity to race for one of the most successful teams in NASCAR history beginning in 2020,” said DiBenedetto. “The No. 21 Ford is one of the most accomplished and iconic cars in our sport and it will be an honor to join Wood Brothers Racing and help carry on the team’s tradition of success in NASCAR. I want to thank Eddie and Len Wood, Kim Wood Hall, Menards, Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company for this opportunity.”
Currently, DiBenedetto drives for the No. 95 Toyota with Leavine Family Racing. Earlier this season, it was announced that he would not return to the team at the end of this year. However, his on-track grit yet humble approach has not only earned him many fans; it’s also earned him respect throughout the garage. DiBenedetto has shared multiple times that he is here to win, he doesn’t want to quit or back down, and that he’s “here to stay”.
To put this into perspective, he currently has three top-five finishes this year in the No. 95 at arguably some of the toughest circuits on the schedule, including a runner-up finish at Bristol Motor Speedway in which he led 93 laps until Denny Hamlin passed him in the closing laps for the win. DiBenedetto followed that performance with an eighth-place result at Darlington Raceway. Back in June, he fought his way to his first career top five finish at Sonoma Raceway, then finished sixth at the second road course of Watkins Glen International.
All of this was done with a team that didn’t have the resources the top teams do.
“I’ve fought and clawed my way to get where I am,” shared an emotional DiBenedetto with FOX Sports after his first career top-five earlier this season at Sonoma Raceway.
And with DiBenedetto’s close victory at Bristol, he made a statement in that race that drew the attention of an entire motorsports industry.
“I’m so sad we didn’t win, but proud, proud of the effort,” said DiBenedetto after the night race at Bristol, just after it was announced he would not return to the No. 95 car after the end of the 2019 season. “I am so thankful everyone on this team gave me this opportunity – all of our sponsors, ProCore, Dumont Jet, Anest Iwata spray equipment, Toyota for backing me this year, everybody at Leavine Family Racing.
“I want to try not to get emotional, but it’s been a tough week and I want to stick around and I want to win. That’s all I want to do is win in the Cup Series and we were close. It’s so hard to be that close, but it’s neat to race door-to-door with Denny Hamlin, someone who I’ve been a fan of since I was a kid. It’s amazing. Great day, but this one is going to hurt for sure.
“I just want to stick around. I’m not done yet. Something will come open. It’s going to happen.”
Tuesday unveiled that he will be sticking around.
I don’t even have the words to describe how thankful I am!! Paul is such a great guy and I’m lucky to call him a friend and I wish him the best! So excited to take over and drive for one of the most legendary teams in NASCAR next year! I have so many people to thank!!!! 🥳 https://t.co/qJy1kcpV10— Matt DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) September 10, 2019