Matt DiBenedetto’s phone started filling up with notifications Tuesday. A rise in the amount of grist for the NASCAR rumor mill translated into pings for the Wood Brothers Racing driver, whose career faces an uncertain path for 2022.
Reports that Brad Keselowski could leave the Team Penske fold for a driving role and an ownership stake in Roush Fenway Racing next season began to swirl Tuesday. The potential arrangement, first reported by Motorsport.com, set the early end of NASCAR’s annual ‘Silly Season’ in motion, and DiBenedetto stands to be among those affected by a blockbuster move.
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The Wood Brothers team, which shares an affiliation with Team Penske, announced last October that Xfinity Series champ Austin Cindric would move to the No. 21 Ford for his rookie Cup Series campaign in 2022. That meant a one-year extension for this season for DiBenedetto, who is hunting for the next stop in his NASCAR career.
A potential move by Keselowski, who is in his 12th season driving for team owner Roger Penske in the No. 2 Ford, could change that dynamic. Officials with Team Penske and Roush Fenway have declined comment on the potential personnel change, and DiBenedetto says he knows of nothing concrete in place beyond the speculation.
“I’m pretty much on the same page and wondering some of the same questions and who knows what’s going to happen,” DiBenedetto said in a Wednesday morning appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I talk about it all the time with my situation that basically everyone wants to know so early, ‘Matt what do you think, what are you doing for next year, you have any talks, has Team Penske or the Wood Brothers told you anything?’ this and that. I’m like, well, no, no, no and no, and my answer would be that my situation completely relies on other dominos falling first, and maybe that’s one of them.
“I unfortunately have to sit and be patient, which is hard to do, and just focus on my job and let some of those dominos fall, which it sounds like, we’re starting to get into that time of year.”
Roush Fenway Racing president Steve Newmark addressed the reports during a Wednesday media availability, opting to focus on the organization’s announcement of a multiyear extension for sponsor Fastenal. Roush Fenway currently fields two Ford entries in the Cup Series — the No. 6 driven by Ryan Newman and the No. 17 of Chris Buescher.
Penske’s three-driver Cup Series roster currently includes the long-tenured Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney. DiBenedetto qualifies as an unofficial fourth Penske pilot through the organization’s tight-knit alliance with the Wood Brothers, but that stable will make room next season for Cindric — an 11-time Xfinity Series winner who is running a partial Cup Series schedule this year before making the full-time jump to NASCAR’s top tour.
DiBenedetto qualified for the Cup Series Playoffs in his first campaign for the Wood Brothers last season and has inched back into the postseason hunt after a slow start to 2021. For now, even the hint of some movement among the Cup Series driver roster has provided DiBenedetto with hopes for stabilizing his career path, either by potentially replacing Keselowski or remaining with the Wood Brothers should Cindric take the No. 2 ride.
“I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t give me some sort of optimism,” DiBenedetto told SiriusXM. “I don’t know what’s exactly set in stone or what’s done, but it’s all speculation at this point obviously on Brad’s side, and I want to wish him the best on whatever ends up happening. Who knows how the rumor mill can work, so I don’t read too much into that stuff, but if something like that winds up to be true or dominos fall and it can be an opportunity for me, of course I’m going to be optimistic about it.
“Obviously I love driving for the Wood Brothers and I love our alliance with Team Penske and also being affiliated with Team Penske, and that relationship with the Captain, Roger Penske, and all that group is nothing short of amazing. So if I can stay in that fold, and I love being part of the Ford family, all that, that’s the ultimate goal for me.”