The Wood Brothers, NASCAR’s longest-running team, announced on Tuesday that Paul Menard will retire from racing at season’s end.
Under terms of a one-year deal, Matt DiBenedetto will take over driving duties in the iconic No. 21 Ford Mustang starting in 2020.
Menard, who turned 39 last month, has competed in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for 16 seasons—the last two years with the Wood Brothers. The affable Wisconsinite cited the desire to spend more time with his family as the reason for his decision.
“I’ve enjoyed every moment of my career racing in the NASCAR Cup Series, and I’m so thankful for all the great memories and friendships I’ve made through this sport,” Menard said. “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.
“Watching them grow and missing out on a couple things that they’ve been doing, it’s hard as a father and 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. This decision is based off of that primarily.
“Matt’s a young guy that can put the time in to give these guys what they need and that will allow me to spend more time with my family.”
Menard is currently 19th in the Cup point standings. In 461 starts, his sole win came at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2011. Menard has also earned two poles, 20 top fives and 69 top 10s—including his last two starts at Darlington Raceway and Indy.
“We want to thank Paul Menard for his dedication to the team over the last two seasons,” said team principal and co-owner Eddie Wood. “We’re looking forward to a strong finish to 2019,and we wish him nothing but the best for the future.”
Wood said when Menard informed the team of his decision, he suggested DiBenedetto as his replacement. DiBenedetto, 28, is in his fifth full year on the MENCS tour. The Grass Valley, Californian has enjoyed a breakout season behind the wheel of the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota but announced on Aug.15th that he would not return to the team in 2020.
“It’s been a dream of mine to be able drive for one of the most legendary teams in NASCAR,” DiBenedetto said. “It’s unbelievable. It’s surreal. It’s been amazing to have the opportunity this year to drive for LFR to showcase what we can do and to elevate me and give me the opportunity to drive for the Wood Brothers.
“It’s going to be an incredible opportunity. I’m thankful to Paul. He’s always been such a big part of the sport and a great friend of mine. I’m happy for him and his future and appreciate everything that he has done. I’m happy for him and his decision and I’m excited for what’s to come.”
After Sonoma in June, when DiBenedetto finished fourth—his first career top-five—he ran fifth at Loudon and a career-high second at Bristol, along with top-10 results at Daytona, Watkins Glen and Darlington.
“All of us at Wood Brothers Racing are excited to welcome Matt DiBenedetto to the team beginning next season,” Wood added. “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.”
Menard cut his teeth in late model stock cars prior to making his debut in both the Cup, Busch and trucks Series in a limited run in 2003. The following year, he competed full-time with Andy Petree Racing in what was then the Busch Series. He moved to full-time Cup with Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2007. Menard posted three wins, six poles 43 top fives and 102 top 10s in 220 Xfinity Series starts.
Although Menard was not forthcoming with his future plans, he expects the family and Menard’s to be involved in NASCAR for years to come.
“I want to thank everyone at Wood Brothers Racing, along with Team Penske, and our partners at Menards, Motorcraft, Quick Lane Tire & Auto Centers and Ford,” Menard said. “It’s been a privilege to work with them and some of the true legends of our sport, including Andy Petree, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Robert Yates, Richard Petty, Richard Childress, Roger Penske and Glen and Leonard Wood.
“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.”