Paul Menard was the one who suggested that Wood Brothers Racing fill the No. 21 Ford seat with Matt DiBenedetto next season.
“I want what’s best for the 21 team,” Menard said Tuesday afternoon. “I want what’s best for my family, and I think this decision is based off that primarily. Matt’s a young guy that can put the time in to give these guys what they need and allows me to spend more time with my family.”
Menard decided he did not want to continue competing full-time in NASCAR over the summer and subsequently informed his team owners. The official announcement was made Tuesday morning and DiBenedetto was indeed named the team’s next driver beginning in 2020 with a one-year deal.
“When Paul let us know that he was going to step away from full-time Cup, our first question was of course, ‘Well, who should we get?’ First thing out of Paul’s mouth was, ‘Get Matt,’” said team co-owner Eddie Wood. “So, we did. We went 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.
“We’ve had a lot of drivers throughout our time and everybody’s family, and he will always be family.”
Menard did not offer much information about when he made his decision only revealing it was “over the summer.” When he addressed the media at Kentucky Speedway in July and said he had a contract for next year, he admitted he didn’t know what he was going to do at the time, but does have a contract that he is choosing not to pursue.
“I wouldn’t say there was one day where a decision was made, it was a general feeling throughout the year and a lot of thought,” Menard said.
“First and foremost, I need to be a good dad, a good husband. But outside of that, there’s a lot of opportunities. Obviously, we have a great company up in Wisconsin that’s growing, it’s vibrant. I’m going to do what I can to help them out for sure, and I’m not done racing yet. Trying to figure out what the next step is, but it’s not going to be 38 weeks a year, I’ll tell you that.”
DiBenedetto will move to the famed WBR organization after one season with Leavine Family Racing. It was after Bristol that DiBenedetto got the first phone call from Penske folks in unison with the Wood Brothers about the potential of driving for them next season.
“It all came together really quick and it’s just amazing how things turn,” DiBenedetto said. “I definitely wasn’t expecting it, but one thing I’ve always said is a priority of mine is gaining respect of other drivers and veterans like Paul because they can be your best ally and a huge influence on your entire career, and this is a perfect example. Paul is not only making a big decision for his life and career, but he’s impacting my entire life, family, and everything I’ve worked for my whole life. ‘Thank you’ for stuff like that can never be enough.”
The WBR alliance with Team Penske is expected to remain in place next season as Roger Penske has been “in step” with what has been going on. Menards and its vendors are also expected to remain sponsors of the No. 21 car.
“Yeah, absolutely,” said DiBenedetto on this being the best opportunity in his career to perform well. “It’s taken every single person and every team to get me here. It’s been a step-by-step process. Coming from when I first got in the Cup Series in 2015 at BK Racing and then moving to Go Fas Racing, they’re still friends and like family to me. Then elevating to LFR and keep climbing that ladder has taken everyone believing in me. Yeah, this is the most incredible opportunity of my whole life, not only from a performance standpoint but just being able to drive for such a legendary team and a family I’ve had so much respect that has always treated me like gold.”