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TEAM PENSKE MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 10, 2019
JEREMY TROIANO: Good afternoon, everybody. We appreciate everyone joining us for today's media teleconference.
Wood Brothers Racing announced this morning that Paul Menard would be stepping away from full‑time competition in the NASCAR Cup Series, that Matt DiBenedetto would join the team in 2020 to run the No.21 Ford Mustang.
We have Paul Menard, the current driver of the No.21 Ford for Wood Brothers, Matt DiBenedetto the newly announced driver of the No.21, and Ed and Lenny Wood, Wood Brothers owners.
We want to hear some opening comments from each of our participants. We'll start with Paul.
Paul, this was a big announcement for you, but you're doing it for several reasons. Can you tell us what went into the decision to step away from full‑time driving in the Cup Series.
PAUL MENARD: First and foremost, it's the time spent away from family. I have two young kids at home. Watching them grow and missing out on a couple things they've been doing, it's hard as a father, as a parent.
This sport takes so much dedication to run at the top level, I want what's best for the 21 team, I want what's best for my family. I think this decision is based off of that primarily.
Matt is a young guy that can put the time in to give these guys what they need. Allows me to spend more time with my family.
JEREMY TROIANO: Matt, you've been running real strong as of late on the track. What does it mean to have your 2020 season secured and to run for such a legendary team?
MATT DIBENEDETTO: Yeah, shoot, it's been a dream of mine. To be able to drive for one of the most legendary teams in NASCAR, it's going to be unbelievable. It is surreal. It's been amazing to have the opportunity.
This year driving for LFR, to showcase what we can do, to elevate me and get me the opportunity to come over here and drive for the Wood Brothers. It's going to be an incredible opportunity.
Just thankful to Paul. He's always been such a big part of this sport, a great friend of mine. Happy for him and his future. Appreciate everything that he's done. Happy for him in his decision. I'm excited for what's to come.
JEREMY TROIANO: Eddie, how beneficial has it been to have Paul as a part of your organization? As a follow‑up, what did you see in Matt that made him a choice to get behind the wheel of the No.21?
EDDIE WOOD: When Paul came to drive for us, Paul is a veteran, with a veteran you have tons of experience and know how, just racing savvy. He brought all that.
When we started, we were kind of rebuilding our team for 2018 last year. With Paul having the experience, along with Greg Erwin coming onboard, they put everything together. Just in the last couple weeks, things are really clicking. It's kind of sad that he's going to back away from Cup racing. But I get it.
Len and I grew up working on racecars. We never drove, but worked on racecars all our life. We missed what Paul is going, getting ready to do. I'm happy for that.
One thing I'd like to say is when Paul let us know that he was going to step away from full‑time Cup, our first question was, Who should we get? First thing out of Paul's mouth was, Get Matt.
So we did. We went right away, started conversations with Matt. That's the only direction we went. I'd like to thank Paul for putting us in that direction. I'm looking straight across from him right now, and I mean that.
Yeah, man, we have drivers, had a lot of drivers throughout our time, and everybody is family. He will always be family.
JEREMY TROIANO: We'll turn it over for questions from the media.
Q. Paul, you were asked by someone, I can't remember who, at Kentucky about next season, said that you loved working with the Wood Brothers team, had a contract for next year. Was your decision motivated or has it changed most recently, has something changed? Is this something that you have been deciding since the beginning of the season?
PAUL MENARD: I wouldn't say there was one day where a decision was made. It was general feeling throughout the year, a lot of thought. Yeah, when I answered that question, I wasn't really sure at the time. I do have a contract for next year. I'm deciding not to pursue it. I do love my team. Got really good guys. Obviously the entire Wood family has been like family to me.
Greg Erwin, Billy, Joe, Tony, all the road crew, that's the hardest part about this decision, is not being on the road with these guys trying to figure out how to make racecars go fast.
Matt has a great team to plug into. We've got a good base. He'll be just fine.
Q. Matt, you said repeatedly opportunities always seem to present themselves. Was this just another example?
MATT DIBENEDETTO: Yeah, my whole path and career has been pretty unorthodox and crazy, for sure. I believe strongly in fate, that everything happens for a reason. I've had to trust in that throughout this whole journey. If I had control of everything throughout my career, I would have messed it up many, many times. I just have had to always work as hard as I can.
I live for this day and night. Have had to let the things out of my control fall as they may. I've been just really lucky. This is obviously just unreal how this path has worked out, this opportunity is working out to come here. So many people had to believe in me for this opportunity, including Paul, the Wood Brothers and everybody at Penske. It's been quite the path.
Menards, Motorcraft, it's taken so many people to believe in me for this to happen.
Q. Paul, what do you plan to do? You have many options, I'm sure. I don't know if it will be related to business, helping the Wood Brothers out, working with your dad. What have your thoughts been about what you might pursue?
PAUL MENARD: Well, the way I look at it is there's 20 more years before I can get my AARP card. First and foremost, I need to be a good dad, a good husband. But outside of that, there's a lot of opportunities.
Obviously we have a great company up in Wisconsin that's growing, it's vibrant. I'm going to do what I can to help them out, for sure. I'm not done racing yet. Trying to figure out what the next step is, for sure. It's not going to be 38 weeks a year, I can tell you that.
Q. You'd take a part‑time ride, Xfinity or something like that?
PAUL MENARD: Ice racing. I haven't done that in a few years. We might build a bad‑ass ice racing car.
Q. Matt, you've been very emotional, your wife was crying thinking what was going to be next. I don't blame all of you for being worried. Talk about how it came that you heard from the Wood Brothers, your reaction, when this came down?
MATT DIBENEDETTO: It was crazy because Bristol was an emotional week, weekend, having a great run. But there were a lot of tears after that. My wife was so nervous. Man, this guy could be again in a situation where I don't have anything next year, not sure.
A little bit after the Bristol race weekend is when I got the first phone call, when Paul was thinking about making this decision. It all came together really quick. It's amazing how things turn.
I definitely wasn't expecting it. But one thing I've always said is, a priority of mine has been always gaining respect of other drivers and veterans like Paul because they can be your best allies and huge influence on your entire career. This is a perfect example.
Paul is not only making a big decision for his life and career, but he's impacting my entire life, family, everything I've worked for my whole life.
'Thank you' for stuff like that can never be enough.
Q. Who called you?
MATT DIBENEDETTO: The Penske guys reached out to me in unison with the Wood Brothers. It was a big discussion of a group of people. Paul putting out that word as well. It took all them to discuss it before they reached out to me and had the first talk and meeting. It all came together very quickly.
Q. Wood Brothers, when Paul gave you his decision he was going to step away at the end of the season, how long did it take you to reach out to Matt? Was he your first choice? What is the timeframe between Paul telling you then reaching out to Matt?
EDDIE WOOD: Like I said when Paul told us, he was going to step away, we talked about with him quite a while what his situation was, he wanted to spend more time with his family, all that.
We asked him the question, Who should we get? Like I said a while ago, he said, Matt. He was the only one we talked to.
It did come together really, really quickly, which is good. I've been in some things in the past where it takes all summer long, a long time to work things out. Matt was pretty much ready to go. Just the way it all unfolded, it was like it was meant to be.
Q. Are you guys surprised at all you were able to keep it without leaking out in this day and age? Were you expecting this would somehow get out there? Did you anticipate being able to keep it a secret?
EDDIE WOOD: We was just trying to keep it not so much a secret, but once the decision was made, we got everything done, we just didn't talk about it. We picked today to talk about it. It kind of worked out.
Not a lot of secrets in racing or NASCAR. There's not a lot of secrets anywhere any more. It was fun keeping it, I guess, a secret, kind of counting it down to see if somebody got ahold of it before the hour.
Fortunately for us, they didn't. That's kind of the way it played out.
PAUL MENARD: Got to love it when a plan comes together.
Q. Paul, it's fair to say you've been one of the more understated drivers in Cup. Is this a good way to go out? Did you like the fact it didn't leak out, you shocked the NASCAR world with your decision?
PAUL MENARD: Yeah, I mean, it wasn't my goal to keep it a huge secret. It's just something, I spoke to the people that needed to know. Eddie, Len, the folks at Penske. It is what it is.
We've had a good couple runs the last few weeks. We certainly want to end the season on a high note. When number 100 is right around the corner, I would love to be the guy to do that. If I can't do that, then Matt is the guy to do it.
Q. Any plans for you to stay involved at Penske beyond this season?
PAUL MENARD: No. I mean, we don't know. We're not there yet. I guess that's in the future.
Q. Matt, is this the best opportunity in your career?
MATT DIBENEDETTO: Having trouble hearing you.
Q. Matt, given Penske's relationship with the Wood Brothers, given Paul has run well, Ryan Blaney won a race for this team, is this the best opportunity you feel like you've had in your NASCAR career to perform well?
MATT DIBENEDETTO: Yeah, absolutely. It's taken every single person on every team to get me here. It's been a step‑by‑step process, coming from I first got in the Cup Series in 2015, then moving go fast racing. There's friends and family to me. Elevating to LFR. I keep climbing that ladder, it's taken everyone believing in me.
To answer your question, yeah. This is the most incredible opportunity in my whole life, not only from a performance standpoint, but from just being able to drive for such a legendary team, a family I've had so much respect for, has always treated me like gold. We go back to racing at Hickory motor racing with Kevin. I've known them for many years. Amazing how it's come about.
But, yeah, from a performance standpoint, being back in a Ford Performance family, being with the Wood Brothers, is going to be an opportunity for many great things to come. Hope to visit Victory Lane with them and all their partners. Taking over and filling big shoes with Paul leaving, it's going to mean a lot, be big for all of us.
Q. The Wood Brothers and Matt, you were alluding earlier you have been sitting on the cusp of your hundredth win. Matt, you've been close to going to Victory Lane. What do you think the team together combined is your best opportunity in 2020, providing Paul doesn't take you to Victory Lane in 2019?
EDDIE WOOD: Like I say, we've got 10 races left this year with Paul. We have quite a bit of momentum built up the last couple weeks. Had a lot of speed in the car. Winning that hundredth one is not out of the question anywhere. You can win a race anywhere.
Everybody wants to win the Daytona 500, because that's the Daytona 500. These races are so hard to win, so important, it doesn't really matter where they happen. You just appreciate it when they do.
I think any of the races that's left we've got a good shot this year. Next year, you go at 'em one week at a time. The speedways are probably may favorite, Daytona, Talladega. Always have been since I was a kid. Anywhere you win a race, it's important.
Q. Paul, can you say what the involvement of Menards will be in NASCAR next year? Same sponsorship with the 20 and the 12?
PAUL MENARD: Yeah, it's going to look very similar to this year, I believe. I think Menards is onboard for a full schedule, split between the 21 and the 12 car. What those races are, I'm not sure yet. We're working on it.
Q. Matt, is this a one‑year deal? Can you characterize it as any more stable than what you had at LFR?
MATT DIBENEDETTO: Yeah, it's a one‑year deal. Hopefully the goal is to make this my family and my home for many years to come, have a lot of success together. It's a great opportunity for all of us to build on something great.
Q. Eddie, you said you asked Paul who he recommended. Were you asking him because he's a veteran? How much of that question is because he's a veteran and you value his opinion? How much is because he's somewhat still kind of the sponsor of the car?
EDDIE WOOD: First off, Paul is my friend. You trust your friends. He's the guy that races with people every week, not me. I just watch. Racers know racers. I just value Paul's opinion. Like I said, the only one answer that come out of his mouth was Matt. That's the direction we went, got it done. We're proud of it.
Q. Paul, can you get a little deeper into the timeline of your thinking, when this started to become more real, the progression, when you told them you wanted to finish out the year and move on?
PAUL MENARD: I think I kind of answered that. It's an ongoing process. I've been racing since I was eight years old. I love racing. Getting to the point where I love my family more.
There was no decision, like I said, on September 1st I made the decision. It's just been kind of an ongoing thing.
Q. At Kentucky you said you weren't sure. At some point you made the decision leading to this day. Is this something you were thinking seriously about all year and you reached that tipping point?
PAUL MENARD: I'd say this summer, some point this summer.
Q. Paul, you've been talking about this being the right time to step away, at the same time you're not done racing. As far as the full‑time aspect, anything in particular you're going to miss most?
PAUL MENARD: The people. That's easy. The weekly travel with your road crew, working with your crew chief, your engineers, seeing people that I've worked with in the past in the garage area.
Racing the cars, it's a big part of it. As I said, I'll still do some racing in some aspect. But the relationships that you build through my first year in the garage area in the Busch Series was 2003 I believe with Andy Petree. Met a lot of great, interesting people, a lot of characters along the way. Those are the memories that you keep with you.
Q. Matt, you talked about this being the biggest opportunity of your life. What does the history of the Wood Brothers mean to you?
MATT DIBENEDETTO: I could only make out some of that there.
If you look at the list of drivers that have driven for the Wood Brothers over the years, it's unbelievable. For me to even think my name, after Paul's, will be added to that list is crazy, something in itself I'll never forget.
I hope to see Paul snag that hundredth win for the Wood Brothers here this year, then I hope to get them and all their partners in Victory Lane, build a great relationship to come, add myself to part of that amazing list.
I'll have great teammates to work with, too, Brad, Joey and Ryan, amazing people for me to be able to lean on. On top of the history of the team, it's just going to be a great situation.
Q. For the Wood Brothers, Eddie, you guys made the Playoffs a couple years ago with Ryan. Didn't work out with Paul this year. What do you feel like Matt brings to the team? Do you feel getting back to the Playoffs next year is a realistic possibility?
EDDIE WOOD: I just got the last part of your question.
You just work as hard as you can. Hopefully it works out. I've been racing a long time. One thing about racing, when things aren't going well, you just keep working as hard as you can, and all of a sudden things start to click. You start having really good runs, good finishes, things like that.
You really don't know how you got there. A lot of times things are going really well and all of a sudden not so good, and you don't really know what you did wrong.
Racing is a crazy business. Hopefully we make the Playoffs. Like I said, we're concentrating on winning our hundredth race this year. We have 10 to go. I think we got a shot at some of them.
Q. What do you feel Matt coming over to the team brings?
EDDIE WOOD: Matt has run well in the last few weeks. All drivers have a lot of enthusiasm. Like I said, I never drove a racecar, but been around a lot of people that were racing greats, Hall of Famers and things.
They've all got something in common, they got a gene you and I don't have, or they're missing one. I'm not sure what it is. I can see the same thing in all the drivers that we've had, all way back with David Pearson, that was when I started.
You could line up 10 people, and there's one racecar driver in that group, I could pick him out. I just know the look. It's the swagger, something, I don't know. All our drivers have had it. Just look forward to finishing the year out with Paul and starting fresh next year.
JEREMY TROIANO: Paul's answer was different, he said big arms to the table.
EDDIE WOOD: Got to have big arms. You can go all the way back in history. Most racecar drivers have big shoulders and big arms.
Q. Paul, when David Ragan announced he was going to retire at Bristol, he said he talked to several of his former teammates that made the transition. Have you talked to anybody in particular that you discussed this with before making your decision?
PAUL MENARD: No, no, I didn't talk to anybody about a decision that's mine ultimately. Yeah, I mean, I've seen Jamie McMurray at the racetrack, at the go‑kart track with his son. I didn't talk to him about it. Looked like he's having a pretty good time. Stuff like that.
No, I never confided or did that with anybody to come up with the decision.
Q. For the Wood Brothers, how do the expectations change when you put a new driver in for next year? Matt, you mentioned this will be the best opportunity of your career. Is it tiring to keep having to go through these one‑year deals? You can't enjoy it because always hanging out there is what's next.
EDDIE WOOD: I'll answer the first part of the question.
You talk about enthusiasm or whatever, expectations, you enter every year with the expectation of running as well as you can, winning races, ultimately being able to run for a championship. That's no different for the past 10 years with us. We started back full‑time in '16, I guess. It's no different with us year to year. You have expectations. Usually they're really high. You just hope you can get close to it.
MATT DIBENEDETTO: No, it's the opposite of that. It's not tiring at all. It's what makes it so rewarding, makes me appreciate it so much. It's what has taught me everything not only as a person but as a driver to fight and claw and be the best that I can be.
It teaches you to appreciate it, a lot about life. So I wouldn't trade the path and journey for the world. Everything's led into great opportunities. This is the best opportunity of my life. I think we can all together just build something great to come for many years. That's definitely the goal.
Q. Eddie, what was the level of feedback you got from Roger throughout this whole process? Do you expect to get the same level of support moving forward with the driver change?
EDDIE WOOD: Yeah, I mean, we've been in step with Mr. Penske all the way, as well as everyone at Team Penske. This is a joint effort. We have a really, really strong alliance with Team Penske that really works really well. Everybody is like family. It's been seamless.
Q. Paul, with your family's involvement with the team, you handpicked Matt to take over for you. Do you see this as an opportunity to decide whether or not you stay together and make this a long‑term thing? Is that something you're interested in pursuing with Matt?
PAUL MENARD: Yeah, for sure. I suggested Matt. I was not part of any negotiations or contracts or anything like that. I've raced against Matt a lot, this year more so than in the past. We were on track next to each other a lot this year. He has a tenacity about him. He's smart. I think he'll find a lot of success here.
The nice thing that Matt has going into the 21 team this year is the team is set. I don't foresee any changes in the 21 lineup for next year. Greg and all the guys do a really good job. Matt can integrate in that team seamlessly.
Q. Matt, had your phone been ringing? Other teams you were in discussions with before Wood Brothers?
MATT DIBENEDETTO: I did get a few phone calls. I did have some different folks reach out, a few different teams express some interest. As soon as I got the phone call, this all came about quickly and recently, as soon as I got that phone call, that was a dream come true phone call and moment. I was basically all in on the opportunity and was eager to meet with them. They could have called me to come down at 2 in the morning and I would have been there immediately. This is definitely the best call, opportunity that I was all in on as soon as I heard about it.
Q. Eddie, you mentioned having Paul's endorsement to bring Matt in. This is the timeframe where he had his spirited drive at Bristol. Did the way he drove at Bristol solidify your pursuit of him, convince you you were on the right track?
EDDIE WOOD: Yeah, Matt had a really good run at Bristol. That kind of helped solidify what you were thinking. But he was the first choice, the only choice. That's just the way it turned out. Like I said, I just think it was meant to be.
Q. Today somebody tweeted that Paul is leaving to go spend time with his family. Who would have known? Like people don't know what your family is. I don't know that the fans do. Tell us something about your family. You don't wave the flag and stands out front and tells the story.
PAUL MENARD: I have a wife and a daughter and a son. They're young. I love 'em very much.
Q. How old are the kids now?
PAUL MENARD: I don't need to get into all that.
JEREMY TROIANO: We thank everybody for participation in today's teleconference.
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