Paul Menard ending full-time career after 2019, Matt DiBenedetto to replace him

by Justin Nguyen

After thirteen full seasons at NASCAR’s highest level, Paul Menard is calling it a career. On Tuesday, Wood Brothers Racing announced Menard would step away from full-time competition to focus on family. Matt DiBenedetto will succeed him in the #21 Ford Fusion for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season.

“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 in a team release. “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.

Menard began driving the Wood Brothers’ famed #21 in 2018. In his first season, he finished nineteenth in points with seven top-ten finishes, a best run of fifth at Michigan International Speedway, and his first pole since 2008. In 2019, he has four top tens with a highest finish of sixth at Bristol Motor Speedway as he sits nineteenth in the standings.

Following a two-year stint in what is now the Xfinity Series for the now-defunct Dale Earnhardt, Inc., Menard moved up to the Cup Series in 2007 with the team. Prior to his full-time competition, he ran sporadically across NASCAR’s three national series, making his Cup début with Andy Petree Racing at Watkins Glen International in 2003.

He spent three years in DEI’s Cup stable before migrating to Yates Racing in 2009, sticking with the organisation when it merged with Richard Petty Motorsports the following year.

In 2011, he joined Richard Childress Racing‘s #27 car, where his production improved drastically with a campaign that saw him score eight top tens, equaling his total in his Cup career up to that point. Later that year, he scored his only Cup victory in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Menard remained with RCR through 2017, recording fifty top tens, eighteen top fives, and a playoff appearance in 2015. Although he was eliminated in that year’s postseason after one round, he had his best career points finish of fourteenth.

“We want to thank Paul Menard for his dedication to the team over the last two seasons,” WBR co-owner Eddie Wood said. “We’re looking forward to a strong finish to 2019 and we wish him nothing but the best for the future.”

Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

DiBenedetto, who is spending 2019 with Leavine Family Racing, lost his ride with the team in mid-August after just one year. With the Toyota team, he is enjoying his best season to date with career-bests in top tens (six), top fives (three), and points standing (twenty-second). Days after announcing he would not return to LFR, he recorded his best career finish of second at Bristol after being passed by Denny Hamlin late for the race win. Christopher Bell is expected to replace him in LFR’s #95 for 2020.

“I am so excited about this opportunity to race for one of the most successful teams in NASCAR history beginning in 2020,” DiBenedetto said. “The #21 Ford is one of the most accomplished and iconic cars in our sport and it will be an honor to join Wood Brothers Racing and help carry on the team’s tradition of success in NASCAR.”

With the move to LFR, DiBenedetto rejoins the Ford stable. He had raced Fords with Go Fas Racing in 2017 and 2018.

“All of us at Wood Brothers Racing are excited to welcome Matt DiBenedetto to the team beginning next season,” Wood commented. “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’s family sponsor Menards will remain with WBR to sponsor DiBenedetto, while the team will continue to maintain its alliance with Team Penske.

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