NASCAR fans today were not at all prepared for the news bomb that Wood Brothers Racing was about to drop on the racing world: driver Paul Menard will be ending his 4,000-year career in NASCAR and retiring at the end of the 2019 season, to be replaced with currently drive-less Matt DiBenedetto.
Speculation has been real hot and heavy regarding DiBenedetto lately. The driver was confirmed to be leaving his current team, Leavine Family Racing, in mid-August, the rumor continuing on to claim that Xfinity driver Christopher Bell would be taking his place. After several stellar races from DiBenedetto since that news came out, the rumor mill has been churning as people wonder where he could slot in for 2020.
No one was expecting it to involve Paul Menard.
Menard has held a spot on the Cup Series grid since 2003 (with the exception of 2004). With a best championship finishing position of fourteenth in 2015. his results haven’t necessarily been stellar—but they have at least been consistent. On the other hand, DiBenedetto has been kicking some serious ass. From the Wood Brothers Racing press release:
Currently competing in his fifth MENCS season, DiBenedetto has been one of the most productive drivers in NASCAR’s premiere series over the last few months. The 28-year-old native of Grass Valley, Calif., has earned six top-10 finishes over the last 10 MENCS races, including three top-five results. DiBenedetto has led 143 laps this season, including at the Daytona 500 and a race-high 93 laps en route to a runner-up result at the Bristol Night Race in August.
DiBenedetto is considered a promising driver, though he was involved in the sponsorship deal with controversial site Barstool Sports. I’ve reached out to Wood Brothers team owner Jon Wood regarding the potential for an ongoing sponsorship with Barstool into 2020 and will update when possible. So far, there’s no mention of it in the press release.
Menard will contest the final ten races of the 2019 season before his retirement, so there will still be a few opportunities to #GetHardForMenard.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Xfinity driver Bell’s first name; it is Christopher, not Christian. Additionally, the headline has been updated to more accurately reflect DiBenedetto’s career.