For Matt DiBenedetto, his NASCAR career has been all about making “a lot out of a little”.
The 25-year old grew up in Grass Valley, California. Living in California, DiBenedetto would constantly ride four wheelers and dirt bikes from a very young age. From the get go, DiBenedetto considers himself “pretty much wide open and out of control.” At the age of five, DiBenedetto started watching NASCAR on his own by forcing his dad to stop flipping through television channels.
While playing baseball, the veteran driver went to a local track and watched his teammate race on dirt. From his first experience at the track, DiBenedetto continued to bug “the heck out of my dad to let me do that.” The ironic part for DiBenedetto is that nobody in his family had a racing background. “I came to the conclusion I must be adopted,” said DiBenedetto.
At the age of 12, the DiBenedetto family packed their bags and headed east to Hickory, North Carolina. DiBenedetto described that transition as “interesting” and a “culture shock”.
“I was young so I couldn’t understand what we were doing. To me, we were winning everything out in California. I needed to pursue this to where racing is bigger. We were really naive,” said the veteran driver.
Now, DiBenedetto considers North Carolina home and would not live anywhere else, even if he wasn’t racing.
At the age of 15, DiBenedetto started running Limited Late Models at Hickory Speedway. While racing at Hickory, the veteran driver was running against Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), who had a development driver racing at Hickory. During that year, DiBenedetto won the championship. Winning that championship, the name “Matt DiBenedetto” began trinkling throughout the shop at JGR as someone who was “making a lot out of a little.”
“The word kinda got around the shop that we were doing a lot with a little, which has been the story of my career. They knew we were on a tight budget, didn’t have much to work with, winning races. It was a good way to get the word out,” said the 25-year old.
In 2009, at the age of 17, DiBenedetto was signed on at JGR as a developmental driver. “It was crazy. I could have cried that day. It was unexpected. I didn’t know it was coming. All of this happened really quick, it looked like a blurb,” DiBenedetto stated. During the time, the veteran driver ran in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series as well as a handful of NASCAR Xfinity Series events.
At Memphis Motorsports Park in 2009, DiBenedetto made his first NASCAR Xfinity Series start. “I was pretty naive. I was really excited. It was short track so it fit my background. I wasn’t too worried about it,” said DiBenedetto.
He started the weekend qualifying in the fourth position. DIBenedetto was running in the front for majority of the race until an incident on pit road sent him to the back of the field. Despite the incident, the 25 year old worked his way back towards the front passing drivers like Kyle Busch. The organization had a shot at winning, but was caught in the scuffle between Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards. DiBenedetto finished 14th that day. “At the end of the all, I was frustrated we didn’t win. That was my mentality. I didn’t really understand how good were in my first race,” said DiBenedetto.
Ultimately, the relationship ended at JGR for DiBenedetto. He went back to running K&N as well as some start and park rides in Xfinity. During that time, the veteran driver appreciated things more than he did before. Despite the circumstances, DiBenedetto continued to make a lot out of a little.
“Going about it this route, the day that I win a race, I will be crying like a little girl. I won’t care if I get any criticism for it because I had to work so hard to get there. I had to regroup and hit rock bottom,” DiBenedetto stated about this route.
When the call came from Ron Devine of BK Racing, things began to change quickly for DiBenedetto. The veteran drivers owes the ride to JD Gibbs, who called Devine.
“Man, it was cool. I owe a lot of that to JD Gibbs. Although I wasn’t at JGR, JD still called Ron and told him to give me an opportunity. So, obviously that weighed in heavily. The day I got the opportunity, I didn’t know if it was for one or two races, but it turned into a full season turning around that 83 car from missing races to making it their top running car,” said DiBenedetto.
In 2016, at Bristol Motor Speedway, DiBenedetto scored his career best finish of sixth. For DiBenedetto, that sixth place finish is considered a “win”. “It was cool because I felt that I validated myself and showed that I can be in a position one day winning races. I have the ability to win races. I just worked the old school way,” the veteran driver stated.
Going into 2017, DiBenedetto made the personal and professional decision to leave BK Racing for GoFAS Racing. The decision to move came with backlash from peers that he would be ruining his career. However, that is not the case for DiBenedetto. “I felt like going to GoFAS had lots of potential taking a team that ran 38th to 40th last year, I was like we can go in there and turn it around making a lot out of a little. If we do that, it would turn a lot of heads,” said DiBenedetto. Sure enough, the team has turned heads. With a small budget, good sponsors, and dedicated crew members, the team is running significantly better than 2016.
“We had to battle some growing pains, but to take a team and grow it way more competitively, it reflects on all of us. To me, that was the best possibility,” said DiBenedetto.
At the beginning of the year, the crew at GoFAS was tired and exhausted putting in long hours making the cars better. For DiBenedetto, the beginning of the year thigh him how to be the cheerleader that motivates and keeps the team together, despite the long hours.
“At the beginning, we knew it was going to be a lot of work running a small budget and having the right people that know what needs to be done with the cars. To be honest, there were lots of guys who were very tired at the beginning of the year. It taught me a lot about keeping the group together and keep them motivated. I had to be a cheerleader for our guys because they would get tired and frustrated with so much work. It taught me a lot,” said DiBenedetto.
The team now feels prepared with the cars that they have in the shop. The long hours are still there, but they are more reasonable for the team. “Our guys are still working long hours, but reasonable. We are more caught up. It’s more relaxed from where we started the season,” said DiBenedetto.
In the first half of the season, the organization is confident and pleased with the speed and performance they have had. The organization knows where they need to run, who they should be running with, and who they should be beating. The team went through a four race stretch where things either broke or a tire was cut down, the team was encouraged where they were running before the incidents.
“As angry and frustrated we were at not finishing due to being rushed or overlooking some things, some smaller teams struggles, we were encouraged because we had a great car and we were running with Danica or the 95, people that have better equipment than us, we were outperforming. All it did was motivate us to take the extra time to dot out i’s and cross our t’s,” said DiBenedetto.
In his personal life, DiBenedetto has been married to his wife Taylor since 2015. Unlike many drivers, being married did not change his approach on racing. “It didn’t. My wife would be okay with me saying that racing comes first before everything,” said DiBenedetto.
As the many drivers within the NASCR garage have went to cycling, DiBenedetto is his own person by lifting weights in the gym.
“I like lifting weights because it is more mental than anything. I kinda have more of that build. It’s a big stress reliever. What we do for a living is really stressful,” said the 25-year old driver. “When i can go lift weights, it mentally makes me feel better and gets me through the racing struggle. It’s a way for me to be unique.”
For those who follow DiBenedetto on social media, they understand that DiBenedetto likes to have fun. Earlier this season, DiBenedetto made his Snapchat account public to be able to interact with the younger fan base. “Getting a reputation is an easy way for me to have fun with fans and share some of my racing life and the fun, normal side of me,” said DiBenedetto.
At the end of the day when the racing career comes to an end, the veteran driver wants to be known in the same way as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. DiBenedetto wants to be known as someone who was fan friendly and friendliest to his fans. “Obviously, everyone can say winning races and championships, that’s a given. What I want to be know on top of that would being the nicest and cares the most about his fans,” stated the veteran driver.
You can follow DiBenedetto on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat at @mattdracing. You can follow GoFAS Racing on Twitter and Facebook @GoFasRacing32.
BK facing turmoil?
Will BK Racing be around when it comes to the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season? In recent weeks, the future of the organization is up in the air. Ryan Sieg was in the car at Michigan that was driven by Gray Gaulding. Alon Day, the first Israeli driver to compete in Cup, will replace Gaulding at Sonoma this weekend. Gaulding and Sieg went to social media last week before Michigan to discuss what is going on. At Dover, Sieg was in the car for Corey LaJoie
Just an FYI for everyone.The only thing BK wanted me to bring to the table was my driving shoes. Hate it for Gray. Great kid and driver. https://t.co/bcescv3woW— Ryan Sieg Racing (@RyanSiegRacing) June 13, 2017
Over the past couple of weeks, the organization has also reorganized their crew chiefs. Randy Cox moved from the No. 83 team and take over duties as the No. 23 crew chief. Doug George has been named as crew chief for the No. 83 Toyota. Patrick Donahue was relieved from his duties as crew chief for Gaulding after Pocono.
BK Racing has been the joke of many fans and drivers alike because the organization tends to bring out a caution each week.
Ron Devine told "The Pit Stop" on the Speedway Digest Radio Network earlier in the year that they would remain consistent with two drivers throughout the season no matter what and use a third car, if needed, for a rotisserie of drivers.
BK Racing only has one charter in 2017. In 2016, they had two, but over the offseason sold the charter to Front Row Motorsports then leased out to TriStar Motorsports. Because of the charter setup, Front Row will either have to start a third team or sell the charter they acquired.
On the preliminary entry list, BK Racing only has the entry for Alon Day at Sonoma.
Truck count at Gateway
Only 30 trucks in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series made their way to Gateway Motorsports Park this past weekend. At Texas Motor Speedway, the truck count was 28.
When the Truck field is paired with the Cup Series, the field is at capacity or teams are being sent home from the event.
Many fans and media were worried about the truck count. However, it is going to be ok. Many standalone events do not have a high enough purse for many teams to even consider showing up. It would usually be cheaper for a team to sit out of an event that doesn't pay well, than to show up and wrecking the vehicle.
GMS Moves to Cup?
News broke early Saturday evening that GMS Racing could potentially field a team in the Cup Series. According to a report by Motorsport.com, that decision couple come within the next month.
This move would be welcomes as the Cup field has struggled to have 40 or more cars arrive at every single race. Although NASCAR deems a full field as 36, it is concerning that only a couple of "open" teams show up on a given weekend.
Last week, GMS Racing hired on Mike Ford to help run the Xfinity Series program. Ford was a Cup crew chief for Denny Hamlin and Bill Elliott resulting in 21 Cup wins.
With the lose of Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports lost a key player in the Cup series. The addition of GMS Racing would allow more information to be shared among teams at Chevrolet.
Because sponsorship and charters are crucial in Cup today, GMS and Maurice Gallagher are looking at running one car. However, if the move to Cup happens, the organization will use Spencer Gallagher for a test run.
It is also interesting to note that just a few short years ago, GMS Racing was a team that would be sent home for failing to qualify in Truck competition. Now, they are a power house in that series as well as a strong dark horse in the Xfinity series.
It is a love hate relationship when it comes to standalone events in NASCAR’s top-three national divisions. In 2017, the Truck series will have a stand alone event at Texas, Gateway, Eldora, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The NASCAR Xfinity Series has standalone events at Kentucky, Iowa, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and Road America.
In 2018, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway standalone for Trucks and the Xfinity standalone at Kentucky will be no more.
Standalone events have become more cost consuming for many teams. The Xfintiy Series has been called “Cup Lite” because of how many races they run with Cup. The viability of these series is contingent on the performance and presence of drivers in the Cup series.
The slogan for the Xfinity Series is “Names are Made Here”. That slogan is true in the fact that when an Xfinity regular is able to run alongside and compete against a Cup regular it shows that they can beat and compete against the “best of the best”.
The crowd at Gateway was one of the best that has been seen at a standalone event in quiet some time. However, not many Trucks arrived at Gateway.
NASCAR should look at potentially moving the Trucks away from contingent weekends with Cup and Xfinity, but look at ways to help promote the K&N Series at some of their own tracks. This could help NASCAR get reconnected with the grassroots of the sport, something that has been lost as NASCAR has become more corporate.
Debris cautions have been a hot topic after the FireKeepers Casino 400 from Michigan International Speedway. The third to last caution was thrown for debris within the final 20 laps of the event. After that caution, the caution flag flew a total of two more times to do incidents on the restartL Tony Stewart went to Twitter to explain his frustrations:
It's a shame that so many drivers and teams day was ruined by the results of another "debris" caution towards the end of the race today.— Tony Stewart (@TonyStewart) June 18, 2017
NASCAR threw the caution for a trash bag on the racing surface, but did not throw the caution for debris due to a straw hat on the racing surface.
Scott Miller, NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Racing Competition, went on SiriusXM’s “The Morning Drive” to discuss this situation.
"We use all the resources that we have to try to identity what it is that is out there - that being camera, turn spotters and the communication that we've got around the race track to different people who may be able to see it," Miller said.
"If we are actually able to identify what it is and feel like it's something that is OK to leave out there, then we'll do so. But if we can't identify what it is exactly and it could pose something dangerous, then we'll usually, or almost always, error on the side of caution and safety and put the caution out in those circumstances. Sometimes it's untimely and a little bit unfortunate, but we do have to do our job and make sure that everybody is safe."
NASCAR needs to work with its TV partners to show why the caution was flown for debris. This will help clear the air of the black helicopters that encompass debris cautions.
Since instituting the “crash damaged vehicle” policy in 2017, the number of cautions for debris is at 12, while the number of debris cautions in 2016 were at 21.
Late Wednesday evening, BK Racing announced that SunFrog, an apparel printing company, would hop on board with Gray Gaulding in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS), beginning this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.
SunFrog was currently in a partnership in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with Brandon Brown and Brandonbilt Motorsports. This sponsorship began this season at Daytona International Speedway with SunFrog having the option to sponsor more races, if they so choose.
The announcement was a shot to the heart for Brandon Brown and Tommy Joe Martins, who is involved with Brandonbilt Motorsports through a partnership announced over the offseason with Martins Motorsports. Both drivers went to social media to express their frustrations with the announcement.
Oh for crying out loud https://t.co/Eb5xDXaADw— Tommy Joe Martins (@TommyJoeMartins) March 16, 2017
Who needs to find sponsorship when you can just walk through the garage and steal it from other people ?— Tommy Joe Martins (@TommyJoeMartins) March 16, 2017
Leave driving out of it. We all drive for small teams.— Tommy Joe Martins (@TommyJoeMartins) March 16, 2017
It's SLEAZY business. This industry is hard enough w/o this type of garbage behavior https://t.co/YVqCwAR3mx
Speedway Digest (SD) reached out to Martins, but was declined comment due to the concerns already expressed on Twitter.
Brown exclusively told Speedway Digest that there was no indication to him that SunFrog would be jumping over to Gaulding. "This means a limited schedule and a lot of hard work to find some more funding and partners, but I'm really bummed out they left a team that they could have built a long lasting relationship and we could have built on each others success both on and off the track," said Brown to SD. "For me I really look to my partners as people to help grow as they help me both on and off the track, allowing us to make progress at an accelerated pace. But I do hope they find success with gray. I just wish I had family funding to put me at the level he is to try and gain partners but I'm very blessed with what I have to work with and I will always be thankful for my opportunities, I just really want to make the most of every single chance because in this sport there's always a chance it could be the last"
Speedway Digest also reached out to BK Racing for comment about the frustration on Twitter, but was declined comment.
Brandonbilt Motorsports continue their search for more sponsorship following the announcement.
We have lost one of our partners for 2017, so that means more opportunities for YOUR company to be on our car!— Brandonbilt Mtrsprts (@BiltMotorsports) March 16, 2017
Contact for opportunities‼️
Finding a sponsor is hard to come by for many drivers in the top ranks of NASCAR.
It's the ones that get up after falling that find success. In a cut throat sport you can't get hung up on single events— Brandon Brown (@BrandonBrownRac) March 16, 2017
However, it is the grind many drivers have to face when it comes to racing.
BK Racing announced at Richmond International Raceway that 18 year old, Gray Gaulding, will be joining the team for 35 races beginning at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Gaulding will pilot the No. 23 Toyota Camry.
“When I first walked into the BK Racing shop I felt at home, it has the perfect mixture of corporate America and the old-school race shop feeling” said Gaulding. “Everyone was elbows deep preparing for Daytona, Atlanta, Las Vegas and the entire season. Ron Devine has invested a lot of time, effort, and equity into BK Racing and it shows as you walk the shop floor. To be back with Toyota is great, I’ve kept a great relationship with them and they’re a great technical partner. I can’t wait to get behind the wheel and represent everyone at BK Racing and our partners that allow us to be at the track.”
Sponsorship for Gaulding will be announced at a later date.
However, there is a conflict with the scheduling of the No. 23 ride. Joey Gase is scheduled to drive that car with Best Home Furnishings at Daytona, the Bristol Night Race, and Kentucky.
Gase went to Twitter to explain what would happen.
— Joey Gase Racing (@JoeyGaseRacing) January 24, 2017
Gaulding ran two races in 2016 at Martinsville and Phoenix, but the performance was not there with a 39th and 37th finishes due to mechanical issues, and failed to qualify for Homestead.
BK Racing has announced that Matt DiBenedetto will not race in tomorrow’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
DiBenedetto raced in today’s O’Riley’s Challenge in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, but suffered a hard hit into the outside wall on lap 134 of the race. He entered into NASCAR's concussion protocol after not being cleared by physicians after the accident.
The team did announce that Jeffrey Earnhardt would be the replacement driver for DiBenedetto. DiBenedetto qualified in the 33rd position for the AAA Texas 500. The team will have to start in the back of the field due to the driver change.
Dibenedetto went to Twitter to explain the situation:
I'm feeling totally fine...just having to follow the concussion protocol. Hate I can't drive tomorrow but I'm looking forward to Phoenix.— Matthew DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) November 6, 2016