Justice has finally been awarded to Matt DiBenedetto. After weeks of uncertainty for his future in the sport, a surprise announcement by Wood Brothers Racing provides the perfect next step for DiBenedetto’s racing career. This morning it was formally announced by the oldest race team in the sport that Paul Menard will step away from racing full time following the 2019 season. In his place, Matt DiBenedetto will take over as the driver of the storied No. 21.
Matt DiBenedetto is widely regarded as one of the best pure racers in the series. Unfortunately, he has continually fought just to remain in the sport he loves. After five years in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series where he has improved his average finishing position in each successive season, the prospect of DiBenedetto’s tenure in NASCAR’s premier series coming to an end was unacceptable among drivers and the media.
DiBenedetto’s last eleven races stand out as the perfect example of a driver determined to prove his worth for a seat next season. His average finish of 11.9 dating back to Sonoma in June was a true show of force for DiBenedetto’s talents.
What truly illuminated DiBenedetto’s story, however, was his impressive second place finish at Bristol last month. Almost holding off a charging Denny Hamlin only to come up short was emotional for the 28 year old veteran, but he received praise from those around the garage and an apology from the very driver that beat him to the line.
Matt DiBenedetto has not been shy about the toll this season has had on him, and who would argue with him. The possibility of losing a job, let alone one that you love, resonated with fans in the sport. His relentless fight and talent is what won them over.
Wood Brothers Racing is the perfect next step for Matt DiBenedetto. His future team has close ties with Team Penske offering a similar environment to that of Levine Family Racing. Paul Menard has shown speed this season in the No. 21 with an average finish of 16.3. He most recently followed up a 9th place finish at Darlington with a 2nd place qualifying effort leading to a 10th place finish at Indianapolis.
Although there is always a period of adjustment for a driver moving to a new team especially when that change includes a new manufacturer, there is little reason to believe that Matt DiBenedetto will not make the most of this opportunity.
After agreeing to join Wood Brother Racing, DiBenedetto posted on Twitter,
“I don’t even have the words to describe how thankful I am!! Paul [Menard] is such a great guy and I’m lucky to call him a friend and 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!”
DiBenedetto’s journey is just beginning. His goal of winning his first MENCS race remains a very real likelihood. Should he come up short this season, a first win coupled with the 100th win for the historic Wood Brothers Racing in 2020 would make for a memorable moment indeed.