Facing uncertain future DiBenedetto comes up big in Vegas

Matt DiBenedetto nearly pulled it off.  DiBenedetto found himself in the mix late in the going in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  After starting 19th, by the end of Stage 1, he found himself in 8th.

DiBenedetto would lead a total of laps and held off arguably one of the hottest drivers in the sport at the moment, Denny Hamlin, in an overtime finish to come up second behind winner Kurt Busch.

“You know, once we lost control, when we had the lead and we chose the outside and we lost control of the lead, he got a good push and it got him the lead,” DiBenedetto said.  “I was like, oh, man, that was tough, because I knew the remaining restarts he had a really big advantage on us as far as our differences in gear ratios, and he knew ‑‑ Kurt is a smart guy.  He’s a veteran, and I knew he was going to play his strengths to his advantage and do the right things on the restarts to maximize his deal.

“That hurt us and it made it tough for the rest of the race.  I know my teammate Ryan Blaney tried to push me on that last one, so I appreciate that, but we had a car if it was out in clean air, we definitely could have won the thing.  I’m just proud that we had a shot at it.”

The finish tied his career best in Vegas, his last runner-up coming in the race back in February.

“It’s not me.  I just am ‑‑ my job is to always take whatever I’m sitting in and make the most of it and drive it as fast as it’ll go, and when they’ll go as fast as they did tonight, we can contend for the win,” he said. “It wasn’t just an easy race, we had to work on it throughout the race.  Greg Erwin, my crew chief, had to make really good adjustments and we didn’t have to stick any wrenches in the window so that makes it easy.  My pit crew, they did a good job keeping us up toward the front all night.  Really it was all those things combined.”

After starting the Playoffs as one of the drivers in the Round of 16, DiBenedetto was one of four who were knocked out. While those drivers always say they will continue to race for wins to salvage a season, for Matt DiBenedetto, there is more at stake.  Under a one-year contract with the Wood Brothers, DiBenedetto still isn’t confirmed for the team next season.  According to the terms of the contract the team has until October 1, this coming Thursday, to let him know if he will be racing for them in 2021, or if he will need to find a new home.

“Basically, we haven’t had a lot of conversations, it’s been more they know the deadline is October 1st, and there’s a lot of parties involved,” he said.  “I know the Woods love me and I love driving for them, so there’s just a lot of people and moving parts involved, so it’s not only the Woods, it’s our alliance as a team with Team Penske and obviously the support that we get from Ford and our sponsors and Menard’s.  Like we have Motorcraft, Quick Lane and then Menard’s, as you notice obviously we had Menard’s and Duracell this weekend.  We always have a vendor partner on the car so those typically would be mapped out pretty far in advance for the following year and things like that, so there’s just a lot of moving parts, so I think they’re trying to work everything out, and I’ll hopefully know my situation for next year.”

For his part, DiBenedetto said he hasn’t been looking anywhere outside the team for a ride.

“I would hope and expect to be back with them,” he said.  “I haven’t pursued anything else if that answers your question better.  So that’s literally everything that I know, and I’ve tried to be not a pain in the butt and let them try and sort out everything to the best of their ability because I know they’re really working hard, especially with all the variables and everything that 2020 has presented to them on the business side.”

Greg Engle