A Memorial Day Weekend Tradition

Fresh off a ninth-place finish at Darlington Raceway on Wednesday night, Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Menards/FVP team head to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Cup circuit’s annual Memorial Day weekend tradition – the Coca-Cola 600.

DiBenedetto, who enters the weekend ninth in the Cup standings, said he’s expecting to run well in his first start there in the iconic No. 21 Mustang.

“It’s a fun place to race,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.” 

DiBenedetto, driving for another team last year, had a fast car in for the Monster Energy Open that preceded the All-Star race at Charlotte, finishing fourth. He said he can build on that as well as his second-place finish earlier this year at a similar track – Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“We were fast at the end at Las Vegas, so I feel good about that,” he said. “And Greg (Erwin, crew chief) and the people on the team feel good about the car and the set-up.”

The Wood Brothers will be making their 117th start at Charlotte, where they have six wins, 24 top-five and 39 top-10 finishes. They also have 19 poles, including 13 in a row from 1973-1979.

As part of NASCAR’s and Charlotte Motor Speedway’s annual 600 Miles of Remembrance, each car in the Coca-Cola 600 will carry the name of a service member who died serving their country.

This year, the Menards/FVP Mustang will carry the name of Air Force Major Lucas F. Gruenther, who was an F-16 Flight Lead and the Chief of Flight Safety for the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base in Italy. 

As Chief of Flight Safety, he developed and executed all aspects of the wing commander’s flight safety mishap prevention and response program. He was responsible for conducting mishap investigations and safety inspections. Additionally, Major Gruenther directed various working groups, wrote and maintained the wing Mishap Response Plan, and coordinated safety concerns on all matters relating to airfield construction and maintenance. 

Major Gruenther earned his commission from the United States Air Force Academy in 2003, where he was a Distinguished Graduate and member of the Parachute Team, the “Wings of Blue.”

He had more than 400 combat hours, including his service in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Major Gruenther, from Twain Harte, Calif., died Jan. 28, 2013, from injuries suffered when he ejected from his F-16 during a nighttime training flight.

He is survived by his daughter Serene Gruenther, who was born on February 7, 2013, just after he died, and his wife of seven years, Cassy Gruenther. He also is survived by his mother Romel Mathias, and numerous other relatives and friends.

Qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600 is scheduled for Sunday, May 24, at 2:05 p.m., and the race is set to start just after 6 p.m., also on Sunday, with TV coverage on FOX.

There will be no practice, and fans will not be allowed at the track.