AVONDALE, ARIZ. – Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series championship race at Phoenix Raceway celebrated the four Championship 4 drivers’ season-long glories. However, another four drivers hope to celebrate soon and resolve a state of transition they each face entering the 2021-22 off-season.
Matt DiBenedetto, who was once lauded by industry members and fans alike for his underdog status, has generated controversy this year more than in 2018 and ’19 when he faced similar underdog situations.
DiBenedetto came under fire for tweeting about the “Let’s Go Brandon” trend and taking aim at Kyle Busch being required to do sensitivity training after his post-race comments at Martinsville.
DiBenedetto’s No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford will be run by Harrison Burton in 2022, leaving him with few options as the off-season looms. However, DiBenedetto is not concerned.
“I’ve had ten zillion heartaches but then I look back a couple of years later and I’m like, ‘I’m glad this happened because it led to this'”, DiBenedetto reflected, “and I don’t expect this to be different. I get my emotions out and reorganize and move on.”
DiBenedetto finished 12th in a strong final race for the Wood brothers, who he praised for their impact on him as a person.
“The passion of every single accomplishment of Wood Brothers Racing and the family and most of all the character [is what I love],” DiBenedetto said. “I talk about non-racing stuff with the Wood Brothers. They’re the type of people that make you want to be a better person in life.”
Ryan Newman, who signed a new lease on life with Roush-Fenway Racing in 2019 – and inadvertently again with his fate in 2020 – remains unsure of his future after a 23rd-place finish in his final race with RFR.
If either the 2008 Daytona 500 winner’s relaxed demeanor during a 30-minute-long Saturday post-qualifying media availability or his silver version of his scheme he qualified are any indication of what Ryan Newman’s future may be, then Sunday’s race may have been Newman’s final full-time NASCAR Cup Series start.
However, Newman regarded his place in the sport as a “major league driver” and, when asked if he would take a ride in just any series, he viewed the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series as the minor leagues.
Newman has not run more than one start in either the NXS or NCWTS since 2010, when he ran 12 NXS races. Newman has run one race in the NXS in 2011 and 2012 and in the NCWTS in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2018.
For Ryan Preece and Anthony Alfredo, each race has been a blessing for them.
Preece’s unchartered No. 37 JTG-Daugherty Racing was only expected to do 24 races this season. However, Preece ran the full season and posted a NASCAR Cup Series career-high four Top 10 finishes and an average finish of 22.9.
Preece’s future remains uncertain as JTG-Daugherty Racing is downsizing to one car for 2022.
Preece’s prospects could be high in the NASCAR Xfinity or Camping World Truck Series, however, as he won at Nashville Superspeedway in June for DGR-Crosley Racing.
In his final race for JTG-Daugherty, Preece finished 20th.
Alfredo closed his first full-time season in any of the top three NASCAR national series with a 34th-place finish after a wreck on Lap 249.
Alfredo earned one Top-10 finish – a 10th-place finish at Talladega in April. He has no plans for 2022 yet.
Alfredo’s prospects in the lower series also look high as he earned 2 Top-5 finishes and 9 Top-10 finishes in 19 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts during the 2020 season – his most recent stint in the lower series.