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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.

Edsel Ford II to drive honorary pace car — a Ford, of course — at Martinsville

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While there’s no guarantee a Ford will win Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, a Ford will definitely start it.

Track officials announced Monday that Edsel Ford II, great-grandson of Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford, will bring the field to the starting green flag as honorary pace car driver, behind the wheel of a Ford Shelby 350GT.

“I was talking with (Ford) in Daytona and he mentioned to me that he had never been to Martinsville, so I figured what better way to welcome him than to invite him to be our honorary pace car driver,” Martinsville Speedway president Clay Campbell said in a release.

Ford currently serves as a member of the auto manufacturer’s board of directors.

“I’ve known Clay for a couple of years now and the opportunity to come to Martinsville, drive the pace car and potentially greet a Ford in victory lane would be a very special Sunday for me personally,” Ford said in a release.

This will be a milestone weekend for the .526-mile paper-clip shaped racetrack, the oldest active facility on the NASCAR Cup circuit. It will mark the 70th anniversary of the Speedway, which opened in 1947. The track recently installed lights, which will be used in this fall’s race weekend there.

The Camping World Truck Series will race on Saturday with the Alpha Energy Solutions 250, followed on Sunday by the weekend’s main event.

Kyle Busch is the defending winner of both the Cup and Truck spring races last season – the first driver in Martinsville’s history to win both series’ races on the same weekend.

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NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 55: Edsel Ford

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Ford Motor Co. scion Edsel Ford was a guest on this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast, discussing the manufacturer’s history in NASCAR and sports cars.

Known as the “Godfather” of the Ford Performance racing program, Edsel Ford plays an ambassadorial role and often visits teams in the Charlotte area (he proudly speaks of knowing the team member who are “the innards of the watch”). A NASCAR Hall of Fame voter since the shrine’s inception, Wood is a confidante of Wood Brothers Racing co-owners Eddie and Len Wood and helped broker the deal that returned the No. 21 Ford to full-time competition last year in an alliance with Team Penske.

“Eddie and Len and I are very close, they definitely are part of the family,” he said. “We’re just good friends. It’s a wonderfully enjoyable relationship.”

Other topics discussed by Ford on the podcast:

  • His desire to get more sponsor and team members inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame (“This sport isn’t just drivers and car owners, there are a lot of other people that make this sport tick”).;
  • The addition of Stewart-Haas Racing to Ford’s 2017 lineup;
  • Attending his first 24 Hours of LeMans and Ford’s win last year 50 years apart;
  • His friendship with Formula One legend Jackie Stewart and the evolving standards of safety.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed above or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

Click here for time codes for easy referencing while listening to the podcast.

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