Trevor Bayne

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Matt DiBenedetto: Joining Wood Brothers, Penske has been ‘hard to process’

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It has been a week of firsts for Matt DiBenedetto and his racing career.

Wednesday saw the 28-year-old Wood Brothers Racing driver became the first to pilot a Xfinity Series car on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, part of a test for the series’ inaugural race on the circuit on July 4 (1:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

It was also DiBenedetto’s first time in a car as a member of the Wood Brothers/Team Penske alliance, four months after the Wood Brothers chose him as the next driver of the No. 21 Ford at the urging of their previous driver, Paul Menard.

“Opportunities like this are things I’ll never forget for the rest of my life,” DiBendetto said during a break in the test. “I’ll be able to say forever, ‘Hey, I got asked by Mr. (Roger) Penske himself, that whole team, by NASCAR, folks at IMS, everyone, to come and be the first ever to run the road course (in a Team Penske Xfinity car).”

Throw in DiBenedetto taking part in his first “Penske Games” (a series of humorous games pitting every Penske driver against each other) and it’s been downright eventful.

The day after the Indy test, DiBenedetto said moving from Leavine Family Racing over to Wood Brothers Racing has been “hard to process.”

“It’s crazy,” DiBenedetto said Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.” “I was talking to Kyle Petty and he said it even better than I could. He said, ‘Matt, you will never driver for a better group of people the rest of your life. You will be part of that family for the rest of your entire life. You’ll be driving for them and a part of history.'”

Petty, an analyst for NBC Sports, drove for the Wood Brothers from 1985-88, winning his first two Cup races in that time.

“It was just amazing some of the things that he said and how amazing a family that they are,” DiBenedetto said. “The opportunity, as everyone knows, is unreal. It’s hard for me to put into words. My wife (Taylor) was crying endlessly when I got that opportunity. Her family has been huge fans of them for so many years. There’s so much history there.

“On top of that, what’s so amazing is if anyone hasn’t been to Stuart, (Virginia) and gone to the Wood Brothers Racing museum, they should. It’s worth the trip to go up there. What’s so cool to see is the amount of pride that they have. On top of all the history, them telling all the stories and how much pride they have for their race team and NASCAR is so unbelievable. Then to have a shot at going and chasing that 100th win this year is going to be such an honor.”

That 100th Cup win for the Wood Brothers would come with just one victory by DiBenedetto this season. It would also be his first Cup Series win.

Five of Wood Brothers Racing’s last seven wins, dating back to Petty at Richmond in 1986, have been via first-time winners in Cup: Dale Jarrett (Michigan, 1991), Elliott Sadler (Bristol, 2001), Trevor Bayne (2011 Daytona 500) and Ryan Blaney (Pocono, 2017).

DiBenedetto will pursue that trip to victory lane with crew chief Greg Erwin.

Erwin worked on the No. 21 the last two seasons with Menard, but has been a crew chief with Team Penske since 2013 in the Xfinity Series.

“We’ve put a lot of time into … spending a ton of time together, me, Greg and then also going to lunch, splitting up into groups and going to lunch with all the different guys on our race team,” DiBenedetto. “These guys are your family. I’m going to spend more time with my race team on the road than I will with my own wife this season. These guys are your family and you’re going to go to war with each other 38 weekends a year. … I’ve put a lot of emphasis on that and getting to know Greg, which we’ve meshed really well together.”

DiBenedetto’s process includes diligently inputing questions into his phone to ask Erwin later.

“It’ll be nine at night and I’ll be sitting on the couch and … I’ll put in my notes, ‘Oh, I want to ask him about this or this situation or if we’re this far into a run or if there’s a big split decision pit call, how would we communicate something, me or my spotter Doug Campbell,” DiBenedetto told SiriusXM. “It’s just more so going through all those questions so that when you do go to the race track you’re as prepared as possible and ready for how I communicate and how he communicates so we can all mesh as quick as possible and get out of the gates strong and go compete for those wins.”

Even after Wednesday’s test, DiBenedetto is “a little overly eager” to get back to the track.

“(His wife) realizes I’m getting extremely bored,” DiBenedetto said. “She’s like ‘You need to go to the dang race track, good lord you’re getting on my nerves.'”

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Cup commuter: Trevor Bayne has a long drive (or a short flight) to work

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CHARLOTTE – Trevor Bayne will be commuting to Roush Fenway Racing farther than he races for the team on most weeks in NASCAR’s premier series this season.

The Knoxville, Tennessee, native relocated his family last December from the Charlotte area to his hometown, which is more than 200 miles from Roush’s headquarters in Concord, North Carolina.

Bayne, though, plans to travel weekly to his team’s shop so he can meet with officials and crew members on Tuesday or Wednesday.

“They’ve been great with it,” Bayne said during the NASCAR on NBC podcast of Roush’s reaction to the move. “As long as I’m committed in getting my work done, they shouldn’t know a difference.

“A lot of drivers will (use video conferencing) or call into the meeting, and it’s like being there, but I actually want to be present as much as possible for the guys who aren’t in the meeting. The guys working in the shop or body shop that want to see you and know what’s going on to know that you’re committed.”

Bayne said he was encouraged by drivers (such as Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott) who have enjoyed out-of-state residency while racing for North Carolina-based teams.

His Knoxville home is about a three and a half hour drive to Roush Fenway, but Bayne plans on mostly flying to work. He is working on a pilot’s license and can rent planes while compiling his required hours for certification.

“Last year I started flying a little bit, and it’s a really short flight to get there,” Bayne said. “A little treacherous over the mountains. You’ve got to pay attention, but I feel it’s good for my mental state to travel back and forth and spend time with the guys.”

With two children under 2, it also will be good for childcare. The parents of Bayne and his wife, Ashton, live in Knoxville. “I really think this is going to be great for my racing and for our personal health,” he said. “Having grandparents around for a night a week if Ashton and I want to go on a date night or if I’ve got an appearance somewhere. … I think it’s going to be a really good thing.”

Bayne finished 22nd in the points standings last season, his third full time in the Cup Series. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner had a career-best six top 10s.

“Last year, we had a lot of big changes on our team with structure and different people,” he said. “This year, it’s more about refining those changes and seeing where we missed the gaps.”

You can hear Bayne at the 13:00 mark of the podcast, which also features William Byron, Aric Almirola, Michael McDowell, AJ Allmendinger and Clint Bowyer.

Click on the embed above to hear the podcast or listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you download podcasts.

2016 Team Preview: Roush Fenway Racing

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ROUSH FENWAY RACING

SPRINT CUP DRIVER LINEUP: Greg Biffle (crew chief Brian Pattie), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Nick Sandler), Trevor Bayne (Matt Puccia). Defending Xfinity champ Chris Buescher (crew chief Bob Osborne) will drive for Front Row Motorsports as part of an alliance with RFR.

XFINITY DRIVER LINEUP: Darrell Wallace Jr. (Seth Barbour), Ryan Reed (Phil Gould).

CHANGES: Veteran crew chief Brian Pattie joins the organization as Biffle’s crew chief, while Biffle’s former crew chief, Matt Puccia, shifts to lead Trevor Bayne’s team. Gould moves from former RFR driver Elliott Sadler’s team to crew chief for Reed. With Sadler moving to JR Motorsports and Buescher jumping to Front Row Motorsports, RFR will downsize from four to just two teams in the Xfinity Series this season.

DID YOU KNOW: The Cat in the Hat, aka team co-owner Jack Roush, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics (Berea College) and a Master’s Degree in Scientific Mathematics (Eastern Michigan University).

EXPECTATIONS: After one of the worst Sprint Cup seasons in team history (including going winless), it’s hard to think things can get worse in 2016. All three of its Cup drivers finished out of the Chase last season, and the highest-finishing driver (Biffle) managed to end up in just 20th place in the final standings. Roush has invested heavily into engineering and aerodynamics, which should help its hopes of rebounding this season.

WHAT THEY SAID:

— “Roush Fenway is in a great place for 2016. We have a lot of changes in place and yet we have a lot of continuity with things that have been good for us in the past,” said team co-owner Jack Roush.

— “Among the halls of Roush Fenway the last few months there has been a level of enthusiasm and energy that is unparalleled since I have been in this sport,” said RFR team president Steve Newmark.

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Trevor and Ashton Bayne welcome arrival of first child, Elizabeth Kate

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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Trevor Bayne and wife Ashton got the early Christmas gift they’ve been waiting for with the birth of their first child, daughter Elizabeth Kate.

Ashton Bayne announced the birth on her Instagram account.

Elizabeth Kate, we are head over heels for you baby girl 💗 #elliekatebayne

A photo posted by @ashtonbayne on

Congratulations to Trevor and Ashton, and here’s to a long, healthy and prosperous life for little Elizabeth Kate.

NASCAR America: Trevor Bayne’s Darlington experience (VIDEO)

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Follow along with Trevor Bayne as he gets ready for the Southern 500 at Darlington, including going through pre-race introductions and getting his Mark Martin paint scheme together.