Racing for historical Wood Bros. not lost on DiBenedetto

Photo by Tim Packman/Kickin' the Tires

By Tim Packman

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Sunday’s 62nd Annual Daytona 500 will be the 1,580th NASCAR Cup Series start for Wood Brothers Racing. Their driver, Matt DiBenedetto, is making his 177th Cup start and first in the team’s storied No. 21 Ford.

If he can finish what he started in last year’s Daytona 500, it will be his first-career Cup win and the teams 100th victory. It would be a mutual milestone beginning to the new driver/owner combination, for sure.

After driving two years each at BK Racing and Go Fas Racing, the native of Grass Valley, Cali moved to Levine Family Racing for the 2019 campaign. Despite leading more laps than he had in four previous seasons combined, almost winning at Bristol Motor Speedway in August and giving the team it’s best finishes ever, he was replaced by Christopher Bell.

Paul Menard announced he was retiring from Cup competition late last season. With the seat open, Wood Brothers started searching for a new driver. DiBenedetto was looking for a new ride.

The two connected and agreed to team up for the 2019 campaign.

Wood Brothers racing has been around since 1953. Drivers who’ve raced the historical No. 21 Ford include Hall of Famers like David Pearson, AJ Foyt, Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker and Dale Jarrett.

DiBenedetto might be new to the team, but not to the family.

“I’ve known Len, Nancy and Keven Wood since I raced at Hickory Motor Speedway against Keven when I was a teenager,” he said. “So, I’ve known them and gone to the Wood Brothers for advice many times.

“They’re such good people, so the fact I’m driving for them is probably one of the most comfortable transitions I’ve ever made just because they’re such great people.

“It’s been hard for me, my wife, my family to even sum up into words. But, it feels good wearing it and it feels good being at the Daytona 500 driving a car that I’ve been a huge fan of since I was literally five.”

During a recent visit to the team’s Stuart, Va. Shop, DiBenedetto took members of his own family to meet the Wood family. After touring the shop and listening to their history, there was one aspect he left with that stuck with him above all else.

“Yeah, there’s one thing that stuck out,” DiBenedetto said. “The one thing that stood out over everything, over all the amazing accomplishments, achievements, all that was the pride and passion that the Wood Brothers have for every single one of those stories and the way that they tell it. That’s something I could never explain to anybody unless they witnessed it like we did.

“It was so cool and so heartwarming and it made it even all that much more special that I can drive this race car and, hopefully, make a lot more memories with them. The way they tell those stories and the pride they have for their team and every accomplishment they’ve done makes it so special.”

In last year’s 500, DiBenedetto became one to watch when he led 49, of 200, laps. That can be attributed to the fact he led only 23 laps in the four prior seasons, thus the reason he didn’t receive too much press.

On Sunday, he’ll be one of 17 drivers who are in new situations for 2020. In addition to getting acclimated with his new team, DiBenedetto also has to familiarize himself with other drivers in new rides.

“Honestly, I’ve been looking at that and trying to study and remember because it’s tough,” he said. “There are so many different guys in the race cars that you’re so accustomed to seeing.

“I’ve been so accustomed to seeing Ricky Stenhouse in the No. 17 for example, and that’s changing to Buescher. There are so many of those situations and you really are biased toward who you want to work with and who is good, who you think makes good decisions.

“So, it’s actually going to be hard trying to remember who’s who on the track.  It’s like a dang quiz.”

The Great American Race produced a first-time winner before when Trevor Bayne shocked the racing world taking the 2011 victory with Wood Brothers. The chance for them to get career won 100 and a first for DiBenedetto is definitely on the driver’s mind.

“Yeah, it’s pretty special on top of just being able to drive for them,” he said. “There is some pretty cool stuff that’s on the cusp of happening, and that 100th win…hopefully we can get that and many more.

“It’s just an honor to be in the position of trying to get that. I’m not big on chasing certain things or chasing wins. I’m just big on doing my job to the best of my ability.

“But, if hopefully that does happen, that’s the plan, it would be pretty special.”

One Comment

  1. Lucy Burke

    February 12, 2020 at 5:42 pm

    Love Matty D…very classy down to earth guy who deserves and has earned everything that comes his way..Good choice by the Wood Brothers to listen to Paul Menard and put him in that car. Good things are on the way for all of you!!! Can’t wait to see the 21 car and the Wood Brothers get that 100th win!!!! Go Matty D!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *