Last fall at Bristol Motor Speedway, Matt DiBenedetto, having learned just days before that he would be a free agent in 2020, turned in a performance that won the hearts of fans both at the track and across the NASCAR nation.
Although he relinquished the lead after holding the top spot for 93 laps late in the race and wound up in second place, the crowd cheered loud and long as he was interviewed for the TV and radio broadcasts.
In those interviews, DiBenedetto, who finished second, vowed to remain in the Cup Series and said he had faith that some top-tier team would hire him and be glad to get him.
“I just want to stick around and keep doing this for a long time to come,” DiBenedetto said on that hot August night. “I love it. I love the opportunity. I’m not done yet.”
“Something will come open. It’s going to happen. I’m here to win. Something’s going to come open.”
Turns out he was right. The Wood Brothers hired him to drive their iconic No. 21 Ford Mustang.
“That Bristol race was the turning point in Matt’s career,” Eddie Wood said. “I remember how well he ran and how the fans were supporting him. When Paul [Menard] decided to retire and we talked with him about who would take over the car, Matt’s name was the first one that came up for us and Paul.”
Now DiBenedetto, who already has matched his Bristol finishing position with a second-place run at Las Vegas earlier this year, is returning to Bristol with a No. 21 REESE/Draw-Tite Mustang that is expected to be capable of once again contending for a win on the half-mile concrete oval.
Wood said he’s optimistic about the team’s prospects this weekend.
“Bristol is Matt’s best track,” he said. “And we’ve had some fast cars up there lately.”
“The biggest thing is getting to the end of the race without getting involved in someone else’s mess or your own mess.
“It’s the hardest race we run to survive to the finish. It’s so fast and the cars run so close. Things happen fast.”
Wood also said he and his family team are excited to have the No. 21 Mustang carry the universally known REESE and Draw-Tite brands, which have been providing heavy-duty and custom hitches and towing equipment since their inceptions in 1952 and 1946.
“We had REESE and Draw-Tite on the car for the iRacing event at Bristol a few weeks ago, and we were proud of that, but it’s a much bigger deal to represent them in a real Cup race,” he said. “We always enjoy working with companies like ours that have long histories.”
Sunday’s Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500, for which there will be no practice or qualifying, is set to start just after 3:30 p.m. with TV coverage on FOX Sports One.