Matt DiBenedetto Replacing Retiring Paul Menard With Wood Brothers Monster Energy Cup Team

Matt DiBenedetto (Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Staff Report

NASCAR Wire Service

In what many consider a surprise announcement only five days before NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series Playoffs begin in Las Vegas, one of the sport’s most iconic teams, Wood Brothers Racing, announced Tuesday that driver Paul Menard will be stepping out of the driver’s seat and Matt DiBenedetto will replace him in the famed No. 21 Ford beginning in the 2020 season.

Wood Brothers team principles conceded in a conference call with the national media Tuesday that the team didn’t necessarily intend to make the news a “surprise” turn of events. Menard said he had been considering stepping out of a fulltime driving role for months. Ultimately, the father of two young children decided, “I love my family more.”

According to those involved, Menard informed the Wood Brothers team of his intentions to stop racing fulltime three weeks ago and then immediately suggested that DiBenedetto, who currently drives the No. 95 Toyota for Leavine Family Racing, would be a good driver to take over the No. 21 Ford for them. The Wood Brothers car is in a technical alliance with Team Penske, and Penske team principals were also involved in securing the deal with DiBenedetto.

The whole process from Menard telling the team he wanted to leave the fulltime ride to the team securing DiBenedetto took only about three weeks, they said.

“First thing out of Paul’s mouth was ‘Get Matt,’” team owner Eddie Wood acknowledged. “So right away, we started a conversation with Matt and that’s the only direction we went. And I’d like to thank Paul for putting us in that direction.”

“It all came together really quick and it’s amazing how fast things turn,’’ DiBenedetto said, acknowledging the uncertainty about his future had created some tough emotional moments for him and his family.

“My whole path and career has been pretty unorthodox and crazy for sure,’’ DiBenedetto said. “I believe strongly in fate and that everything happens for a reason. I’ve had to trust in that throughout this whole journey because if I had control of everything throughout my career, I would have messed it up many, many times.

“I’ve just had to work as hard as I can. I live for this day and night and have had to let the things out of my control fall as they may. I’ve just been really lucky and it’s unreal how this path and opportunity worked out.’’

Following the mid-August announcement that he would not be returning to Leavine Family Racing for the 2020 season, DiBenedetto said he had received “a few phone calls” from teams expressing interest in him.

“But as soon as I got the phone call [from the Wood Brothers], that was a dream come-true phone call and I was basically all-in on the opportunity,’’ he said.

“They could have called me at two in the morning to meet with them and I would have been there immediately,’’ he said, adding, “This is the best opportunity of my life and I think we can all build something great for years to come.’’

Team owner Len Wood said simply, “He was our first choice. I just think it was meant to be.’’

DiBenedetto, a 28-year-old Californian, is in the midst of a career year in the No. 95 LFR Toyota – leading a race-best 49 laps in the season-opening Daytona 500 before being collected in a wreck in the waning portion of the race.

He’s scored the first top fives of his five Cup seasons (at Sonoma, New Hampshire and Bristol) this year and already earned a career-high six top 10s in the car. Only three weeks ago he scored a dramatic and career best runner-up finish to Denny Hamlin at the famed Bristol night race.

The 39-year-old Wisconsin native Menard has competed fulltime in the Monster Energy Series for 13 seasons earning his lone victory at one of the sport’s grandest races, the 2011 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

His first fulltime Cup job was in 2007 driving Chevrolets for Dale Earnhardt Inc. He raced a season each for both Yates Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports before settling in at Richard Childress Racing, where he competed from 2011-2017. He moved to the Wood Brothers No. 21 last season.

Menard has two Monster Energy Series pole positions to his credit – in 2008 at the Daytona summer race and last year at Chicagoland. He has one win, 20 top-five and 69 top-10 finishes. His best season statistically was 2014 when he had five top fives and 13 top 10s.

He has three NASCAR Xfinity Series victories as well and said he still planned to compete in assorted Xfnity races in the upcoming seasons.

Menard is currently ranked 19th in the Monster Energy Series standings with four top 10s through the opening 26 Cup races.

“The way I look at it there’s still 26 years before I can get my AARP card, so I’ll stay pretty busy doing things’,’ Menard joked, adding, “First and foremost, I need to be a good dad, good husband. Outside of that are a lot of opportunities. Obviously we have a great company up in Wisconsin [Menards] that’s growing and vibrant.

“I’m not done racing yet, trying to figure out what the next step is for sure, but it’s not going to be 38 races a year, I can tell you that.’’

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  1. Great news for Matt D. He’s proceed he can run up front in some mediocre rides, looking forward to seeing him win in the Wood Brothers #21. Good luck to Paul as well

  2. Trapper Dave says

    Matt D is probably a great driver and a hard-working driver who is deserving of a break, but the days of NASCAR Cup as the premier stock car race division is on a well-deserved, irreversible decline. The latest news that NASCAR declined a firearm manufacturer (K-Var) to purchase commercial time during a Cup race is Exhibit #3,000 (or whatever) as to why the grandstands at a Cup race are empty. I will never attend or watch a Cup race or ever patronize any company or sponsor that is affiliated with a Cup race. Looks like NASCAR has unquestionably sold out its fan base and joins other institutions (e.g. Hollywood, media, et cetera) as an “enemy of the people.”

  3. Sounds to me like your one of those people with waaay to many guns. Besides idiot it’s not up to NASCAR who purchases commercial time during a broadcast, it’s up to the network, in this case NBC. So what now idiot, are you gonna stop watching TV?

  4. Trapper Dave says

    Thank you for your reply, Rob p. I guess “your” one of those people who spent waaay too little time learning how to spell. Rob’s comment supports the idea that RaceDayCT ought to have to take a breathalyzer before one is permitted to post.

    That said, every story that I read covering the K-Var / NASCAR story reported the same fact: that is, NASCAR vetoed the K-Var advertisement. NASCAR relayed its decision to nix the K-Var ad through its third-party advertising agency, National Event Publication (“NEP”). Sunny Berlin, an employee of NEP, sent an e-mail to K-Var on August 19, 2019 informing it that NASCAR — not NBC — took the decision to spike the proposed ad. The Washington Free Beacon obtained a copy of the e-mail and posted it on its website. I read the the entire NEP e-mail thread.

    If you could cite the source(s) for your comment that NBC ditched the K-Var ad, I’d be more than happy to look at it. If not, go brush your tooth.

    Thanks to RaceDayCT for its racing coverage!

  5. Guns, sheesh. It’s a single issue for many voters. Not far from abortion as one where you will never find any common ground. The cup series has issues for sure but I doubt a gun advertisement would help solve any of their problems.
    I’d argue it could make them worse. Young people, suburban women and others wouldn’t take kindly to seeing the seller of assault style weapons and accessories associated with their entertainment. Especially in the current environment in mass shootings using assault style rifles.
    You could say they dodged a bullet.

  6. In today’s social environment the last thing this country needs is to have guns advertised on TV. I’m not anti- gun, just anti – Phyco.

  7. What I for see goes something like this; first a gun manufacturer advertises on TV. Soon others follow. Then a gun manufacturer sets up a tent at the race track, soon others follow. Then a manufacturer starts selling guns at the track, soon…
    Now people are openly carrying their guns. Now we’ve all seen that belligerent drunk at the track… The one with the 3 tattoo on his shoulder where the sleeve of his Dale Earndhart t-shirt used to be. A guy is sitting near Mr redneck with his family, as the belligerent redneck spews profanity laced garb. After a while family man confronts him, and ends up getting shot. This is why NASCAR should stay away from gun advertising. May sound like fiction, but sadly, in today’s society, could come true, good forbid.

  8. I can’t match you’re intensity or imagination Rob but I do agree with where you land on the issue 100%
    The only question is what is good for the sport. In the short run this decision will rile those that put so much (stock) in their gun ownership rights but in the long run will be soon forgotten. If they did allow advertisements of firearms people would actually avoid races so as not to hear the advertisements.
    It was a business decision and it seems to be smart at this point in time.

  9. ….assault style……
    And that is all one needs to read from a certain group of “thinking” Americans. What is your favorite flavor of Kool_Aid Doug? Rob p Trapper is still waiting for an answer.
    The idea that a mass shooting in the stands at a Cup event is influenced by a gun ad during a race on NBC is beyond stupid. Guns don’t kill, bullets do..or excuse me “style” does. Beam me up Scotty.

  10. Crazy,
    Who cares? Why is it even an issue here? And yeah I know you’re not the one that brought it up, but you’re the most recent comment so I’m just going to say it here. NASCAR is a private company and they can decide the marketing partners they want to align themselves with. I’m certain they fully understand the ramifications of the decisions they make and the segment of the population that their decisions might anger, but they still have the right to make those decisions. Over the years NASCAR at all levels has made decisions about not aligning their organization with certain businesses, from strip clubs to risqué websites to wrestling organizations to certain alcoholic beverages to gun manufacturers. People have the right to express their displeasure with their decisions by not buying tickets or not watching. Simple as that. So let’s put the gun debate to end right here before it goes off down a trail here that we don’t need.

  11. To be fair I did say it was a business decision. I also said that it concerns a topic that there is no middle ground that we aptly see demonstrated here.
    Mr. Courchesne said that people have have a right to express their displeasure by not partaking of the offerings of the organization for literally any reason as it turns out. In this case my observation is that from a business perspective it is the right decision give the product. A decision that I agree with as it turns out. It’s fair game in this venue I believe. The gun issue and regulation is not.
    I see nothing disrespectful or confrontational in that. My only crime was as it always is. Offending the delicate sensibilities of a testy porcupine.

  12. Doug,
    I definitely get your point. I’m just trying to nip the gun debate here before it turns into something way more than just NASCAR’s decision.

  13. For the record guns don’t kill people… people kill people. And I said nothing about a mass shooting, rath a simple argument turning into a homicide, happens all the time. Don’t think NASCAR needs to let someone advertise assault weapons.

  14. My apologies. Mums the word.

  15. Who cares? Why is it even an issue here?
    Two great questions I’ve asked a thousand times when the subject topic veers well off into all things Trump or beats the Bruce Bemer / Waterford SB dicussion into the ground. Hooray the moderator moderates. Why bring up the obvious conclusion that NASCAR can partner with anybody they choose? Who argued otherwise?. If they think ticking off the multi thousand of their fan base is a wise thing to do…more power to them. But I’m with you Shawn let’s keep a racing site about racing I’m good with that

  16. What the hell do guns have to do with Matt D? What am I missing here?

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