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Paul Menard to retire from NASCAR; Matt DiBenedetto will drive No. 21 in 2020

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Wood Brothers Racing announced Tuesday that Paul Menard will retire from full-time NASCAR competition after 2019 and Matt DiBenedetto will take over the historic No. 21 Ford next season.

Menard, the 2011 Brickyard 400 winner, will retire after 13 full-time seasons in the Cup Series. The season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be his 471st start.

This year was his second season driving for Wood Brothers Racing. Menard, 39, joins David Ragan in being the second long-term veteran to announce their retirement from full-time racing after this 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 press 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.

“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. 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.”

Said DiBenedetto in a statement: “I am so excited about this opportunity to race for one of the most successful teams in NASCAR history beginning in 2020. The No. 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. I want to thank Eddie and Len Wood, Kim Wood Hall, Menards, Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company for this opportunity.”

The news about DiBenedetto’s new ride comes after he was informed by Leavine Family Racing last month he wouldn’t return to the No. 95 Toyota next season.

DiBenedetto, 28, is in his fifth season of Cup competition. Sunday’s Brickyard 400 was his 166th start. He has six top-10 finishes, including three top fives this season. All of those have come in the last 11 races. One of his top fives was a runner-up finish in the Bristol night race, where he led a race-high 93 laps but lost to Denny Hamlin.

DiBenedetto will be a guest on NASCAR America MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday on NBCSN.

“We want to thank Paul Menard for his dedication to the team over the last two seasons,” said team President and co-owner Eddie Wood in a statement. “We’re looking forward to a strong finish to 2019 and we wish him nothing but the best for the future. All of us at Wood Brothers Racing are excited to welcome Matt DiBenedetto to the team beginning next season. 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.”

Later in a press conference, Menard said he expected Menards to remain as a full sponsor on the No. 21 and Ryan Blaney‘s No. 12 car.

20 years later, memories of Dale Earnhardt’s Daytona 500 win remain fresh

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After so many years of trying and so many years of frustrations, Dale Earnhardt finally won the Daytona 500 on this date 20 years ago.

“Yes! Yes! Yes!’’ he said in Victory Lane.

“Can you believe it? We won.’’

One of the sport’s greatest drivers had won everything else during Daytona Speedweeks but the sport’s biggest race until Feb. 15, 1998.

No more heartbreaks.

But Earnhardt wasn’t the only one celebrating. That day remains memorable to many who witnessed it either at Daytona or watching on TV.

Here are their memories of seeing Earnhardt win the Daytona 500 for the only time in his career:

Austin Dillon (age 7 in 1998)

“That was a special moment. I didn’t really know what was going on at the time, how big of a moment I was being a part of (in Victory Lane). I remember doing the hat dance. I thought that was really cool. I was collecting a lot of hats that day. But the significance of everything, I was just kind of celebrating with everybody. I didn’t really know what was going on.’’

Ty Dillon (age 5 in 1998)

“That memory is really important to me. My brother and I were at MRO, which is where all the kids still go. My grandma ran over and said we won the race, and we had no clue what the significance of that race was but we knew we were going to Victory Lane. I remember just the excitement and the fun and everybody was so excited. That hit me pretty deep. I was 5 years old. From the time I stepped in a race car for the first time and when I won my first race, that’s when it hit me that it was what I wanted to do because I wanted to live that moment that I had in Victory Lane when I was 5 years old. That thrill of victory in that moment was what drives me still to this day to be a race car driver.”

CHOCOLATE MYERS (Gas man for the No. 3 team that won)

“So, we finally do our celebration and our Victory Lane and our high-fives and we’ve got to go home. We’ve got to be at work the next day. There is no party for the team back then. For me, (wife) Caron and I either had the third car or a truck load of parts so we’ve got a dooley and a trailer and I’m thinking the third car in it that we’ve got to leave here. We’ve got to drive home man. It’s already late. We’re in traffic. It’s like 9:30 or 10 o’clock (at night) and we’re in Jacksonville, and I’m going I ain’t going to make it. I started at 5 o’clock this morning, not going to make it.

“So we decided we’re going to get us a (hotel) room, we’re going to get up early the next morning, maybe five and get home as soon as we can. I know this sounds stupid and I know this sounds corny … I walked into the Holiday Inn and the lady said, ‘Can I help you?’ I said ‘We just won the Daytona 500!’’ It was the first human being outside of the race track that I saw that I could tell it to. It was like the greatest thing I was ever able to say. We just won the Daytona 500!’’

RAY EVERNHAM (Jeff Gordon’s crew chief in that 1998 race)

“Well, first of all, I don’t think it’s any secret that I was a Dale Earnhardt fan even before I came to Cup. It was always mixed emotions every time we were racing with them.

“I remember (I) probably busted up a stopwatch or clipboard when we busted that cylinder because we were running third with three, four laps to go. It was right there towards the end. We were going to be in the mix because our car was really good. I think we broke a valve spring or something like that. It was about finishing, not getting way behind in points.

“Honestly, I don’t remember what happened at the end of the race. I realized when it was over that Earnhardt won it. I started to walk back to the pit area. I saw everybody lining up. I jumped in line with them to shake his hand. Again, an honor to have raced against him. To be there, shake his hand, be part of that line, definitely did that.

“Really happy that we were there that day.  As I said, I did get to shake his hand.

Aric Almirola (age 13 in 1998)

“I wasn’t at that race, but I remember watching it. Actually, I think that year we were on a ski vacation out west in Colorado, so we were sitting in our log cabin that we had rented for the week and watched that race.  That was a really special race to watch and to finally see Dale Earnhardt win the Daytona 500, and I think what made that such a fan favorite and even a garage and industry favorite was people had seen how close he had been so many times. 

“I think the first couple times that he lost the fans that loved him were devastated and the fans that hated him were happy. Eventually, after the guy lost it and was so close so many times, hell, even the people that didn’t like him wanted to see him win the Daytona 500. I was a huge Dale Earnhardt fan. My grandfather was a big Dale Earnhardt fan, so our whole family was big Dale Sr. fans. I can’t remember exactly how I celebrated, but I’m sure I was jumping up and down on the couch and happy and excited, and then probably threw my ski gear on and went and hit the chair lift.”

Kyle Busch (age 12 in 1998)

“I’d have to say I must have been at home and laying on grandma’s floor, sitting on grandma’s floor, staring at the television, watching that race. That’s about what I can remember. I remember the year before vividly watching that race and thinking, Dale is going to finally win this thing. Then he’s on his lid just a few laps before the end. That was kind of where we were every single off‑season, every single February, because we weren’t racing yet. I would have been sitting there watching the television, seeing whether or not Dale was finally going to be able to win the Daytona 500. was a Jeff Gordon fan number one, but from there I liked to see Dale win, I didn’t mind seeing Rusty win, I didn’t mind seeing Dale Jarrett win. I was watching, learning, seeing the sport evolve and play out, never really saying, I can’t stand that guy, I hate that guy. I was never that guy.”

Martin Truex Jr. (age 17 in 1998)

“I was on the couch with my dad, watching the race. Of course, Dale was my driver. To watch the heartbreaks over the years, then for him to finally win it, it was like watching the Eagles win the Super Bowl. It really was. It was so exciting. It was unbelievable that he finally got it. It was like you knew at some point in time he was going to win it, right? Until he did, you’re like, What the heck is going to happen next?

“That was fun. Then just watching him drive down pit road, the congratulations he got, that’s something I remember like it was yesterday. I mean, I remember exactly where I was sitting on the couch. It was like one of the coolest moments in racing history, so yeah I remember it.’’

Justin Allgaier (age 11 in 1998)

“We were at home watching the race and a buddy of mine and I were outside … riding a motorized scooter and he fell and broke his arm. All of us were Dale Earnhardt Sr. fans at the time. His family was diehard Dale Earnhardt Sr. fans. They waited to go to the hospital to have his arm checked out until after we saw the end of the race because there was a good chance he was going to win. Quite an interesting ordeal but at the same time it was cool to be able to watch that on TV.

Elliott Sadler (age 22 in 1998)

“I was here as a pit crew member for my brother who was running the Busch Series at the time. We stayed over and watched the race as a fan. You know it was big at the time because he tried to win it for 20 straight years. I grew up an Earnhardt fan. It was neat for me to be here and see that. I think in my mind will I ever hear the fans that loud again in this sport? I’m not sure.’’

ANDY PETREE (car owner for Ken Schrader in 1998)

We had a challenging week, and Kenny got hurt pretty bad. We had to run our Clash car, and it turned out to be the best car we had. Drove up through there. So fun to watch. He got up there and looked like we were actually going to have a shot. There were two laps to go, we’re getting in that position in fourth with a run and the caution came out. Dang it! I remember being mad we didn’t have a shot at it. They threw the caution and white flag. I was kind of disappointed, and then as I’m walking up pit road, right as I saw the nose of the 3 coming down, I thought “Dadgummit, he finally won the thing.” Me and him were tight. I kind of made my way up to the car, and we had this really special moment where we made eye contact, congratulated him and he was beaming from ear to ear. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him so happy.’’

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Austin Dillon: Richard Childress Racing looking to be ‘leaner and meaner’ with two-car team

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – When the 2018 Cup season begins next month, Richard Childress Racing will show up with what Austin Dillon hopes is a “leaner and meaner” two-car operation.

Dillon confirmed RCR will only field two full-time cars this season Tuesday during the NASCAR Media Tour.

The driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet will be joined by Ryan Newman in the No. 31.

Paul Menard, who drove the No. 27 for RCR from 2011-17, is now with Wood Brothers Racing driving the No. 21.

“That was something I was really excited about in the offseason, when we decided to go to a little bit smaller organization,” Dillon said. “I see a lot of two-car teams being successful. Furniture Row is going back to one car and they were a two-car team last year, won the championship. I’m really positive about that. … It’s nice to be able to focus on two cars and our crew chiefs are our best friends. … They want to put RCR where it needs to be and that’s winning championships.”

This will be the first time RCR has been a strictly two-car operation since 2000, when it fielded entires for Dale Earnhardt in the N0. 3 and Mike Skinner in the No. 31. The next season, they fielded a third part-time car in eight races. At its peak, RCR fielded four full-time cars.

It went from four to three full-time cars in 2012.

The team has also downscaled its Xfinity operation from five to three cars.

RCR was able to win two Cup races last season, with Dillon in the Coke 600 and Ryan Newman in the spring Phoenix race. They were the team’s first Cup wins since 2013. Dillon, entering his fifth full-time season in Cup, doesn’t see 2018 as a rebuilding year.

“I think (it’s) just a go forward year,” Dillon said. “We’re getting more resources than we’ve ever had for two teams for a full year. Three teams, you’re getting spread thin at times and now we have the people that we want around us and enough of them.”

When it comes to personnel, Dillon said the team has “grown stronger” in the area it most needed to – engineering.

“It is leaner and meaner, but as far as the depth and places you need them, it’s probably better, truthfully,” Dillon said.

One new addition for RCR is an old face for the team. Andy Petree, who won two championships with RCR as Earnhardt’s crew chief in 1993 and 1994, has rejoined the team as the vice president of competition.

Dr. Eric Warren, who was the director of competition beginning in 2012, will now report to Petree in his role as chief technology advisor.

“I’ve enjoyed Andy since he got to our organization,” Dillon said. “It’s a line between my grandfather and myself and Eric Warren and my grandfather. … Our sport’s moving in a direction that’s heading toward the future and Andy has a passion and always has had a passion for engineering, but also kind of plays to my grandfather’s cards where he’s got an old school part to him, too.

“He’s letting Eric Warren work in his area and Andy’s kind of relaying those messages and pushing my grandfather in the right direction we need to go.”

Whichever direction they go in, they’ll be joined by Richard Petty Motorsports.

The team that owns the No. 43 Chevrolet driven by Darrell Wallace Jr. entered a technical alliance with RCR and now finds its home on RCR’s campus in Welcome, North Carolina.

“It was really cool yesterday having the King (Petty) in the room for a meeting with all of us,” Dillon said. “My grandfather, seeing those two iconic brands kind of standing together, it makes it special. I’m sure Chevrolet is excited about that, too.”

 

RCR names Andy Petree vice president of competition, Dr. Eric Warren chief technology officer

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After rejoining Richard Childress Racing as a competition advisor in October, Andy Petree has been named the team’s vice president of competition, RCR announced Monday.

The team also named Dr. Eric Warren as chief technology advisor. Warren, who has been with RCR since 2012 as the leader of competition, will report to Petree.

Petree’s new full-time role comes after he helped conduct a “comprehensive review” of RCR’s competition area.

Petree returns to RCR after serving as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt from 1993-95, when they won two championships and 15 races.

Warren has served as a competition director, chief aerodynamicist and technical director since entering stock car racing in 1997.

“These organizational moves will strengthen our competition department tremendously,” said Richard Childress in a press release. “We felt that Andy did an exceptional job in the past month during his review of our competition area. Bringing him on as a vice president of competition is a valuable addition to our leadership team.”
“I’ve known Andy for a long time and we’re thrilled to have him work alongside our team, including Eric in his new role as chief technology officer. This move will allow Eric to use his years of experience and many technical talents to focus on engineering and the application of emerging technologies.”

RCR is coming off a two-win season in the Cup Series, with Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon making the playoffs off their respective victories at Phoenix Raceway and in the Coca-Cola 600.

They were the first wins for RCR in Cup since 2013.

Newman and Dillon will be back with RCR next season. No plans have been announced for the No. 27 Chevrolet after the departure of Paul Menard for Wood Brothers Racing.

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Andy Petree to serve as competition advisor to Richard Childress Racing

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Andy Petree has been retained by Richard Childress Racing as a competition advisor.

Petree was the crew chief for Dale Earnhardt when he won his last two Cup championships in 1993 and 1994. RCR has not won a Cup title since.

“We welcome Andy to RCR in an advisory role,” Richard Childress said in a press release. “Andy is someone I’ve known for many years and his knowledge of our industry runs deep. He is well respected within our community and will provide a fresh perspective as we evaluate opportunities to improve.”

Petree owned his own NASCAR team from 1996 to 2004 and fielded entries in all three of NASCAR’s top touring series.

He won 25 Cup races as a crew chief and four NASCAR races as an owner.