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.
Two Day Shows
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series could have easily had a two day show at Daytona International Speedway.
All the series did on Thursday afternoon was have two practice sessions. On Thursday, over half the teams did not even make a lap in the second and final practice session for each series, both sessions ran for 55 minutes.
The final Cup practice saw 19 drivers make a lap while the Xfinity Series had only 16 drivers made a lap.
On Friday, teams arrived at the track for qualifying that began at 2:00 p.m. EDT. NASCAR could have easily had one practice session of 90 minutes on Friday morning to save teams some money during the race weekend. Teams could have spent an extra day at home and save costs on hotels and travel.
The sanctioning body and teams should look at ways to reduce the race weekend down to two days in an effort to save on costs.
The overtime line came into effect in the Coke Zero 400 and the Coca-Cola Firecracker 250. However, uproar from the line came during the Coca-Cola Firecracker 250.
When the green flag flew in NASCAR Overtime, the field had to reach the overtime line located towards the middle of the backstretch. Before the field reached the line in the Xfinity race, they were already wrecking. By the time the caution lights were illuminated, the field had already crossed the overtime line. That caused an uproar among fans and media about the delay.
After an explanation from NASCAR, the delay was ultimately deemed a human error. The delay was approximately two seconds. The delay was caused from recognizing the crash, calling the caution, and illuminating the caution lights.
Should the overtime line be updated? NASCAR is currently looking at overtime procedures to implement in the 2018 season.
Little Teams That Did
Racing at Daytona and Talladega are always good for the underfunded teams in NASCAR. The draft and restrictor plate racing is the cause of performance for these teams.
In the Xfinity Series, little teams that did include but are not limited to include Dakoda Armstrong (P3), Jeb Burton (P4), David Starr (P5), Ross Chastain (P6), and Joey Gase (P10).
In the Cup Series, little teams that did include, but are not limited to include Michael McDowell (P4), Brendan Gaughan (P7), Corey LaJoie (P11), and Matt DiBenedetto (P13).
For these teams, a good finish at the track does wonders to their budgets and their future.
Joey Logano And Locking Bumpers
In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, teams are forced by NASCAR to not be able to lock bumpers at restrictor plate events. If two teams lock bumpers, both teams will be given the black flag and penalized with a pass-through penalty.
According to Wayne Auton, Logano is a master at riding that fine line of bumping and locking the bumpers. That difference is so small and subtle that NASCAR has a hard time determining if it is a locking of bumpers.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.— Bringing a new tire to compete at Daytona International Speedway proved it’s challenges for drivers.
Goodyear brought a new tire compound that was supposed to provide more grip for drivers. The tire provided grip for stability, not speed. However, there were numerous tire issues during the weekend.
On Thursday during the opening minutes of NASCAR Xfinity Series practice, Spencer Gallagher had a tire go down in the middle of the draft, sending himself and Cole Custer to a backup up car.
In the Coke Zero 400, five drivers reported tire issues. The most vocal was Kevin Harvick, who stated over his radio that the tires were “crap.”
Tire issues were the main cause of some of the cautions on the track. However, the problem was not because of issues with the tire, but because of fender rubs.
Because of the nature of drafting, the fenders were pushed in from the beating and banging in the draft. Despite claims from driver’s about the tires, Goodyear saw no issues with the tire they brought to the track.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.— With three red flags and nine caution flags during the Coca-Cola Firecracker 250, finding that mojo was difficult to come by.
Once the race completed the second stage, drivers ratcheted up the intensity and made moves that were not seen during the first two stages. Dakoda Armstrong and Elliott Sadler discussed the flow of the race:
“A little bit. The race was pretty weird. With all the rain, everyone was kinda calm, for the most part. There really wasn't a big wreck until the end. Everybody was willing to ride more in the first two stages. I think the rain played a part in that. It was kinda restarting the race from the beginning every time. I feel like that was the best I’ve seen the field do as far as being aggressive and moving and not just tearing up stuff. It was kinda weird the way it played out, it probably helped everyone’s nerves. For me, we were ready to get it over with. We knew this could hurt us or help us. Luckily, we were on the good side of it,” said Armstrong.
“It just seemed short to me because you start-stop-start-stop. I think everybody was kinda calm until we knew that we got to lap 60, the next weather rain would end it because we knew we had to get everything ready for Cup. Cars started getting more aggressive. I saw bump drafting a lot more, more side drafting, more three-wide. The first half of the race was calm. Everybody knew once we got to lap 60, things had to change. You kinda saw that,” said Sadler.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.— For the second week in a row, William Byron was able to score the victory in the rain-marred Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 from Daytona International Speedway.
Byron was sent to the back of the field at the beginning of the race and then in the middle of the race due to issues with the splitter, but was able to work his way to the front to win at Daytona.
"Man it's awesome. These Daytona fans are really cool. I came here for a Daytona 500 when I was a kid ... this is so cool to win at Daytona. I can't even imagine it. These guys brought a great JRM car and hopefully Dale can get it done (tonight). This is is really cool for our team and just really proud of everybody," Byron stated to NBCSN.
This is Byron’s first victory at Daytona International Speedway. He was also the highest finishing rookie in the event.
After running up front and narrowly missing a couple wrecks, Elliott Sadler finished second. Sadler was also able to score a stage point by winning the second stage.
“The Chevrolet was fast all day. We won a stage. We finished second, ah. A 1-2 finish for JRM is a really good day for us,” Sadler stated to NBCSN after the race.
Being in the right place at the right time payed dividends as Dakota Armstrong finished third.
“We had some damage. A good day for us surviving. Two good weeks in a row for us. Good momentum for us going into the points. Everyone’s working hard, it was awesome. Good day for our whole team,” Armstrong stated to NBCSN.
Jeb Burton, David Starr, Brennan Poole, Joey Logano, Joey Gase, Brendan Gaughan, and BJ McLeod rounded out the top-five.
The Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 was delayed twice by rain and then once for cleanup on the track. The caution flew nine times for 35 laps. There were 18 lead changes amongst 10 different divers. The time of race was two hours, 13 minutes, and 56 seconds. The average speed was 116.476 mph. Blake Koch and Sadler won the first two stages.
Sadler extends his points lead to 59 points over Byron.
Next up for the NASCAR Xfinity Series is a trip to Kentucky Speedway for a Friday night spectacular, the Alsco 300. The race will air on NBCSN and Performance Racing Network at 8:00 p.m. EDT.