BRISTOL, Tenn. — Though there are no irons in the fire right now, Matt DiBenedetto is ready to strike as soon as they’re hot. A team owner needs to show interest in order for that to happen. His future in racing depends on it.
News broke Thursday that DiBenedetto will not be returning to Leavine Family Racing next season.
“I don’t want to retire yet,” DiBenedetto said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. “I’m only 28 years old, just getting started. I want to win in the Cup Series. That’s my goal. I’m here to keep climbing the ladder, not go backward.”
DiBenedetto has been a full-time fixture in the Monster Energy Series for five seasons now. This was his first in LFR’s No. 95 Toyota, though. He used to race for BK Racing (2015-16) and Go Fas Racing (2017-18).
Next year is now up in the air, yet one thing is for sure: Cup is the only option.
“I want to win in Cup, so whatever gets me there,” DiBenedetto said. “… I’m not just going to be like, ‘Oh, this is a job and this will pay the bills. I’d rather live in a box knowing I put it all out there versus just taking a job.”
Through 163 starts in the premier ranks, DiBenedetto has notched two top-five finishes and eight top-10 showings. Both of the top-fivers and half of the top-10s were both this season.
DiBenedetto should start Saturday’s Bristol Night Race (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) seventh, clocking a qualifying lap of 14.937 seconds (128.46 mph) around the .533-mile track. He had the fastest time in Friday’s second practice and fourth-best in the first.
Overall, DiBenedetto is currently ranked 23rd in the championship standings with 397 points (leader Kyle Busch has 892; cutline Clint Bowyer has 559) with three regular-season races left until the 16-driver playoff field is set.
“Matt, in my opinion, has been doing an incredible job and he deserves to keep that ride,” Stewart-Hass Racing’s Daniel Suarez said. “I was very surprised to see that. If he wasn’t performing, well, he didn’t perform, right? I think he’s doing a better job than what people were expecting and what the team was expecting. So, it’s a little bit disappointing to see a good driver and a good guy to have something like that.
“All I can do is wish him the best, and hopefully he can find somewhere that actually trusts in him and trusts in him for real, not just for a year.”
Similar sentiments run strong throughout the field — competition or not.
“I can’t imagine what he’s going through and his thought process,” Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. said. “It’s difficult. Tough time in the sport, it just is. I feel for him. He’s a good guy. He’s done an awesome job in that car, and hopefully he’ll get a good opportunity somewhere.”
The support has not only helped DiBenedetto personally get through this tough time with his head held high, it has also helped him reassure his wife. He said she has been a “big ball of tears.” Messages from fellow drivers and other owners, though, are visible proof DiBenedetto has been doing something right this season.
Hopes are it’s only a matter of time before any new opportunity arises.
“She knows, I think in her heart, my whole life I’ve always prevailed,” DiBenedetto said. “I’ve always pulled something out and kept on opening better doors. It’s all happened for a reason, so I think she knows that.
“But, of course, you wouldn’t be human if you weren’t worried.”