DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2019 Daytona 500 was the first points paying race with Leavine Family Racing for Matt DiBenedetto and Toyota Racing. DiBenedetto departed Go Fas Racing at the end of the 2018 season and hoped to make a name for himself. With the team moving over to Toyota and an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2019, DiBenedetto was given a chance to show what he can do behind a wheel.
As the green flag was waved, DiBenedetto wasted no time showing what he can do. Before Sunday’s (Feb. 17) Daytona 500, DiBenedetto had only led 23 laps in his career. DiBenedetto led for 49 circuits and was in contention to win “The Great American Race.”
But chaos ensued.
While entering Turn 3 on lap 190, Paul Menard hooked Matt DiBenedetto into the outside wall, triggering a 21-car pileup. A red flag was displayed for over 25 minutes as NASCAR worked to get the track clear of debris.
“I am not really sure what happened,” Paul Menard said to FOX Sports after the incident with 10 laps remaining in the originally scheduled distance. “I hooked the 95. I was trying to get to his outside and he was kind of in the middle and he went to the outside and was going back and forth.
“The 12 had a big run so I jumped up in front of him and hooked the 95. I am not sure what really happened there. I will take the blame for that one I guess. We had really fast Fords. I sped on pit road and got us behind. We had to play catch-up. We had a shot there at the end though.
“It was time to go. It is frustrating that we have to put ourselves in that position to race this way. I had a big run with the 12 pushing and barely nicked the 95 and he got sideways. I tried backing off, but wrecked a lot of cars.”
DiBenedetto agreed with Menard on the fact that it was a racing deal, and that Menard did not intentionally cause the accident.
“Just a racing deal,” DiBenedetto told FOX Sports after being evaluated and released from the infield care center. “Not anything intentional, I talked to Paul (Menard).
“I think he was trying to get to my outside and clipped my right rear. It’s just racing hard. I was focused on trying to help my Toyota teammates. I hope they can pull it off.
It was the most fun speedway event I’ve had in my life, being able to lead and do incredible things. It was obviously an amazing scene, people can see what we’re doing here.”
DiBenedetto looks to have another solid run next Sunday (Feb. 24) at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. At the worn-out 1.5-mile track in the heart of Georgia, the driver of the No. 95 has never finished better than 28th in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition.
Matt Courson contributed to this story.