NASCAR: Matt DiBenedetto to stay in Wood Brothers’ No. 21 for 2021

CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 24: Matt DiBenedetto, driver of the #21 Menards/FVP Ford, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 24, 2020 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Matt DiBenedetto will remain with Wood Brothers Racing next NASCAR season, but will abdicate the No. 21 to Austin Cindric the following year.

The number 21 proved to be both aces and bust for Matt DiBenedetto on Thursday. 

Wood Brothers Racing, the NASCAR Cup Series’ longest-running team, announced that DiBenedetto would return to pilot their historic No. 21 Ford, but only for next season. Xfinity Series standout Austin Cindric is set to take over in 2022. Cindric has also signed a multi-year with Team Penske, with whom WBR shares a technical alliance.

While the situation seems bittersweet for DiBenedetto, the 29-year-old expressed only excitement and gratitude in a statement released by the team.

“It’s such an honor to be able to continue to drive for Wood Brothers Racing and have another year to grow with this organization,” DiBenedetto said in the statement. “I am excited to learn from our 2020 notebook and I’m confident that with a full season under our belt and working together as a team, we will produce even better results. I also want to thank Ford Performance and Team Penske for their efforts in making this happen.

“These types of decisions take a lot of time, as we all know there are a lot of factors in play. All three groups want to make the best decisions for everyone involved and I’m appreciative to have the opportunity to continue to compete for such a legendary race team.”

Founded by the titular Wood brothers (Leonard and the late Glen) in 1950, the No. 21 Ford has been a staple on the Cup Series tracks. Previous drivers to take the wheel include A.J. Foyt, David Pearson, Neil Bonnett, Dale Jarrett, and Ryan Blaney. The team has won 99 Cup Series, its most recent coming with Blaney in a 2017 race at Pocono.

While DiBenedetto is still seeking his first Cup Series win, he has gained himself a strong following after working his way up through the lower-tiers of auto racing. He raced for several low-budget teams at the Cup Series level prior to joining WBR, posting respectable results in subpar equipment. DiBenedetto’s patience was rewarded with his first NASCAR playoff berth. Through 31 of 36 races, he has earned a career-best eight top-ten finishes in the No. 21. He’s also tied his personal best with three top-five postings, including a pair of runner-up results at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in February and September. Another runner-up finish at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday was taken from him when NASCAR determined that DiBenedetto forced race-winner Denny Hamlin out of bounds below the track’s yellow line.

In July, DiBenedetto raced his way into the NASCAR All-Star Race after winning the All-Star Open beforehand.

Though DiBenedetto was eliminated from championship contention after the first round, he was very hopeful about what the future had in store, continually expressing interest in re-upping with the Woods.

“I feel like the Wood Brothers are an amazing family, and you can tell they ooze confidence in me, and that’s such an amazing feeling. The same with Team Penske and our alliance with them,” DiBenedetto said after his more recent second-place run in Vegas. “I can feel that everyone has confidence in me and our team and knows we’re only going to continue to get much better.”

Cindric will take over the ride in 2022, as NASCAR is expected to run its highly touted “Next Gen” racecar. He will compete for Rookie of the Year honors behind the wheel the No. 21, but he will run select races with Team Penske next season. Cindric has enjoyed a breakout year in the Xfinity Series realm, winning five races in Penske’s No. 22 Ford. He currently sits in second place in the standings with five races to go.

It’s possible Cindric could take over one of team owner Roger Penske’s current full-time cars, which include Blaney in the No. 12 and former Cup Series champions Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano in the Nos 2 and 22 respectively. Each of Penske’s three full-time cars likewise made the Cup Series playoffs, with Keselowski and Logano still in contention for the title.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action on Sunday afternoon with the Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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