What it means for Matt DiBenedetto to replace Paul Menard at the Wood Bros. NASCAR team
Matt DiBenedetto was Paul Menard’s only choice to replace him in the No. 21.
It took a series of remarkable events for Matt DiBenedetto to secure his best opportunity to contend for wins yet when he pilots the No. 21 for the famed Wood Brothers Racing team in 2020.
This story began after the 2018 season when the underfunded DiBenedetto willingly left Go FAS Racing in the pursuit of a race-winning car without the support needed to simply go buy one. He landed at Leavine Family Racing when Kasey Kahne unexpectedly retired.
After piloting that car inside the top 10 for much of the summer months, Leavine Family Racing was forced to decline DiBenedetto’s option for what appears to be the opportunity to get additional Toyota support in exchange for taking on driver Christopher Bell.
Thus, it’s the most DiBenedetto outcome imaginable that he would get the call to drive the No. 21 next year when Paul Menard decided to retire from full-time competition to spend time with his wife and two young children.
Menard actually had a year left on his current deal with the Wood Brothers and his family’s home improvement chain is set to sponsor the No. 21 and various Team Penske programs next year regardless of the driver.
As a result, Menard had a large amount of input into who replaced him. Team owner Eddie Wood said his current driver immediately said, “Go get Matt,” and that’s exactly what they did.
Everything you need to know about Menard, DiBenedetto and the Wood Brothers can be found below.
WHY DID PAUL MENARD RETIRE?
Menard reiterated exactly what was stated in the press release revealing the changes on Tuesday morning. He simply reached the conclusion over the summer that he no longer wanted to race for 38 weekends a year at the highest level of the sport.
Menard and wife Jennifer have welcomed two children into their family over the past five years, and at 39 years old, the 2011 Brickyard 400 winner wanted to spend additional time with them.
And candidly, when you have the sort of money the Menards have, his life can look however he wants it to.
“I have two young kids at home,” Menard said. “Watching them grow and missing out on a couple things they’ve been doing, it’s hard as a father, as a parent.
“This sport takes so much dedication to run at the top level. I want what’s best for the 21 team. I want what’s best for my family. I think this decision is based off of that primarily. Matt is a young guy that can put the time in to give these guys what they need. This allows me to spend more time with my family.”
WILL PAUL MENARD RACE ON A LIMITED BASIS?
At 39 years old, Menard feels like he has a little more to offer the motorsports community, but only on a partial basis.
In addition to the full slate with the Wood Brothers, the Menards agreement also gives Menard a handful of NASCAR Xfinity Series starts a year with Team Penske. While Menard and the Wood Brothers didn’t have anything to announce on Tuesday, it seems reasonable to expect the handful of Xfinity races to remain on the table for the veteran driver from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Menard also stated a desire to go ice racing during the winter near his Midwestern home.
HOW DID DIBENEDETTO GET THE CALL?
This whole process happened very quickly and was finalized in a few short weeks.
Menard decided to retire within the past month, and the first and only call was made to DiBenedetto, who having nothing currently on the table, accepted. Team co-owner Eddie Wood said Menard hand-selected his successor.
“One thing I’d like to say is when Paul let us know that he was going to step away from full-time Cup, our first question was, ‘Who should we get?’ and the first thing out of Paul’s mouth was, ‘Get Matt,'” Wood said. “So, we did.
“We went right away and started conversations with Matt. That’s the only direction we went. I’d like to thank Paul for putting us in that direction. I’m looking straight across from him right now, and I mean that.”
HOW LONG IS DIBENEDETTO’S DEAL?
This is yet another one-year agreement for DiBenedetto, who is quickly becoming accustomed to racing one year with teams.
“It’s what makes it so rewarding, makes me appreciate it so much,” DiBenedetto said. “It’s what has taught me everything not only as a person but as a driver to fight and claw and be the best that I can be.
“It teaches you to appreciate it, a lot about life. So, I wouldn’t trade the path and journey for the world. Everything’s led into great opportunities. This is the best opportunity of my life. I think we can all together just build something great to come for many years. That’s definitely the goal.”
And there is hope that this could turn into a longer-term agreement.
Menard left his agreement with the Woods, and DiBenedetto will simply occupy that agreement with all the Penske support the previous contract called for. But beyond that, Menard says his family is interested in extending that agreement depending on how next year goes.
“I suggested Matt,” Menard said. “I was not part of any negotiations or contracts or anything like that. I’ve raced against Matt a lot, this year more so than in the past. We were on-track next to each other a lot this year. He has a tenacity about him. He’s smart. I think he’ll find a lot of success here.
“The nice thing that Matt has going into the 21 team this year is the team is set. I don’t foresee any changes in the 21 lineup for next year. Greg (Irwin, crew chief) and all the guys do a really good job. Matt can integrate in that team seamlessly.”
WILL THE PENSKE SUPPORT REMAIN THE SAME?
Not only did Roger Penske provide his blessing for the Wood Brothers to go this direction, the Menards sponsorship remaining in place means that DiBenedetto will essentially get everything Menard was promised.
That means DiBenedetto will get crew chief Greg Irwin working on cars built inside the Team Penske shop alongside the cars driven by Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney — the latter raced with the Woods before making the jump to the Penske No. 12.
“We’ve been in lockstep with Mr. Penske all the way,” Eddie Wood explained. “As well as everyone at Team Penske. This is a joint effort. We have a really, really strong alliance with Team Penske that really works really well. Everybody is like family. It’s been seamless.”
In short, DiBenedetto will soon become a de facto teammate to Keselowski, Logano and Blaney. It’s the fourth Penske car.
This is exactly the kind of scenario DiBenedetto dreamed of when he made the decision to leave Go FAS two years ago.
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