SPARTA, Ky.— As silly season has ramped up in NASCAR, Matt Kenseth’s name has been brought up as a driver who could leave his current organization, Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR).
"As of today, I do not have a job for next year," Kenseth stated Friday morning in his media availability. "I don't think I'll have the option to race at JGR next year.”
The statement from Kenseth confirmed rumors around the garage that Kenseth would be leaving JGR and racing for a different organization come 2018.
Who replaces Kenseth in the No. 20 Toyota Camry? That person could potentially be Erik Jones. When Jones was signed on at Furniture Row Racing for 2017, Joe Gibbs was adamant that the deal with Jones and Barney Visser was for one year only.
Just yesterday, Jones was unable to comment on what his plans for 2018 are:
“I’m just driving. For the most part, for me, whether – I don’t know where I’m going to be yet. They haven’t let me know. For me, I’ve been really happy at Furniture Row (Racing) and it’s been a steady group of guys over there that I think work really well together,” said Jones. “I don’t yet. Hopefully I know soon. You know it’s kind of getting down to that point. I guess it’s July now, so I’m sure we’ll have an answer here soon.”
Where will Kenseth land? How many years does Kenseth have left? The speculation is that Kenseth would be replacing Dale Earnhardt, Jr in the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports as a placeholder for William Byron in 2019. If Jones is leaving Furniture Row for JGR, Kenseth could potentially move to the No. 77 Toyota Camry.
When asked if it was a possibility, Kenseth stated, “I probably already said too much about what I’m not doing next year, so I don’t really have anything to talk about what I am doing at this point. At this point, I don’t have anything going on next year and am trying to get focused on running better and winning races.”
Despite the rumors and looking for a ride, Kenseth is focused on his performance in 2017.
“It’s been a slow start,” Kenseth said. “It has not been a good year at all. I just want to try to get back to victory lane and qualify for the playoffs and have a shot at the championship.
The landscape of JGR has changed over the past two years. With the vanishing of Carl Edwards, Daniel Suarez was brought up from the Xfinity Series, although most people suspected it would be Jones before Suarez at JGR.
With the comments from Kenseth, the domino about silly season is about to fall.
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.
In just his second career NASCAR Xfinity Series start, Kyle Benjamin will lead the field to green in today’s Pocono Green 250 from Pocono Raceway for the very first time.
The first round of qualifying became interesting as a fox ran onto the racing surface halting qualifying. Casey Mears will start from the rear of the field as his time was disallowed for impeding the qualifying run of Matt Tifft. Daniel Hemric was fastest in the opening round at 171.798 mph. Justin Allgaier posted the second fastest speed at 171.730 mph. Benjamin was third fastest in the opening round at 171.726 mph. Kyle Larson was fourth fastest at 171.595 mp. Blake Koch rounded out the top-five at a speed of 171.429 mph. All drivers are able to participate in the race this afternoon. Notable drivers who did not advance to the second round include Darrell Wallace, Jr. (P13), Ryan Reed (P16), and Elliott Sadler (P18)
The second round of qualifying went without incident. Benjamin posted the pole winning speed at 171.844 mph. Hemric will start second with his speed of 172.305 mph. Cole Custer will start third with his speed of 172.295 mph. Allgaier will start fourth with his speed of 172.219 mph. William Byron rounded out the top-five with his speed of 171.775 mph.
The Pocono Green 250 will go green shortly after 1:00 p.m. EDT on FOX and Motor Racing Network.
As varying pit strategies played out, it was Riley Herbst who was able to take the victory in the General Tire #AnywhereIsPossible 200 from Pocono Raceway in the ARCA Racing Series Presented by Menard’s for his first career win.
“Talk about a long time coming for the team. Wow. We put together a brand new team this year at Joe Gibbs Racing. This is great,” said Herbst to Fox Sports 1 in victory lane.
Herbst was able to grab the lead after Brandon Jones had tire issues early in the race. Herbst was able to stay at the front of the field for majority of the race. Herbst was able to stretch his fuel for 40 laps.
B. Jones could have been the winner in the Friday afternoon race, but a tire issue sent him down to pit road. Jones was able to catch a break when the only caution flew for a stalled car. Jones was able to restart in the second position, but was unable to catch Herbst.
Michael Self finished the race in third after running a relatively quiet and consistent race. Self had to go to the rear of the field at the beginning of the race, but was able to work his way through the field to the third position.
This was the fastest ARCA race from Pocono Raceway. Next up for the ARCA Racing Series is a trip to Michigan International Speedway for the Corrigan Oil 200. The race will be on June 16th at 6:00 p.m EDT on Fox Sports 1.
Kyle Busch will start from the pole in Sunday’s Axalta Presents the Pocono 400 from Pocono Raceway. This is Busch’s second pole in a row in 2017 and his 21st career pole. This was Busch’s third pole from Pocono.
The car was really good,” Busch said. It’s showed good speed since we unloaded here. It’s going to be a tricky race at the tricky triangle as it heats up throughout the weekend.”
Martin Truex, Jr. will start second, Matt Kenseth will start third, Ryan Blaney will start fourth, and Kurt Busch round out the top-five.
The first round of qualifying saw Kyle Larson go to the top of the board at 178.625 mph. Ky. Busch was second fastest at 178.056 mph. Kevin Harvick was third fastest at 177.285 mph. Joey Logano was fourth fastest at 177.176 mph. Keselowski rounded out the top-five at a speed of 176.796 mph. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. qualified 28th, but will start at the rear of the field due to changing his engine in the only practice session of the day. Notable drivers who did not advance to the second round include Chase Elliott (P25), Kasey Kahne (P26), and Ty Dillon (P27). There will be no drivers sent home as 39 drivers arrived at Pocono.
The second round saw Ky. Busch at the top of the board at 178.483 mph. Logano was second fastest at 178.313 mph. Blaney was third fastest at 178.295 mph. Kenseth was fourth fastest at 178.087 mph. Harvick rounded out the top-five with a speed of 178.006 mph. Notable drivers who did not advance to the final round include Daniel Suarez (P14), Austin Dillon (P17), Denny Hamlin (P18), Jimmie Johnson (P19), Clint Bowyer (p20), and Danica Patrick (P24)
In the final round, Ky. Busch posted a speed of 179.151 mph. Truex Jr. posted the second fastest speed at 178.543 mph. Kenseth posted the third fastest speed at 178.108 mph. Blaney posted the fourth fastest speed at 177.897 mph. Kurt Busch posted the fifth fastest speed at 177.799. Keselowski, Larson, Jamie McMurray, Logano, and Ryan Newman round out the top-10.
Teams will have only one practice session on Saturday beginning at 11:30 a.m. EDT to prepare for Sunday’s race that will go green shortly after 3:00 p.m. EDT. Fox Sports 1 and Motor Racing Network will have practice and race coverage.