by Nick Lewis
As 2021 begins, it’s tough to gauge exactly how Matt DiBenedetto will perform. In the past three seasons, he’s been with three different teams, each differing in their budget, alliance and overall performance.
In 2018, he drove for Go Fas Racing, a team with a small budget that typically ran toward the back half of the field, finishing 29th in points. In his final year with GoFas Racing DiBenedetto was in his second year with the team meaning that the team was able to take notes and build relationships with the crew members boosting their performance. In his first year with the team, he finished 32nd in the points standings which shows that having the time with the crew and the notebook for setups can make a big difference in performance.
Driving for Leavine Family Racing in 2019, a team that had an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, DiBenedetto finished 22nd in points improving on his points position from the year before. Given the alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing LFR was able to get information and equipment to boost their performance at the track. However, he was not running up front with the rest of the Gibbs cars.
In 2020, he was with the Wood Brothers, who had an alliance with Team Penske, making a significant jump in points position, finishing 13th in points. DiBenedetto said that during the pandemic the loss of practice and qualifying hurt his team the most because it was tough with a new group to get to know each other and it didn’t allow them to try things during practice.
“I think it hurt us more than most,” said DiBenedetto. “Our team being new to each other, the things that we normally would’ve learned in practice like Matt like these shocks at these places and this type of feel. We’re learning them in the race to where you really can’t change it and then you’re learning it by trial and error in races versus in practice.”
With DiBenedetto running for three different teams over the past three years, he hasn’t been able to put up consistent finishes to predict what tracks he will run well at. However, he has put up some great finishes in the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford and in his time at Leavine Family Racing. In 2019, he finished 4th at Sonoma and 2nd at Bristol for LFR. During his 2020 season, Matt finished 2nd in both Las Vegas races, 6th in the second Pocono race, 8th in the second Phoenix race and sixth in the New Hampshire race to back up a fifth-place finish in 2019.
Matt DiBenedetto always seems to outperform the equipment given to him which is why, when he has better equipment, he is more likely to run up front and more consistently contend for wins. He typically runs well at short tracks and road courses, where the cars are not as aero-dependent and he can outperform other teams based on skill.
DiBenedetto said that in the last third of the season the team clicked and they started running better and believes that the momentum will carry over to this season. Instead of focusing on winning, he focuses on performing to the best of the team’s ability. He feels that the team is now ready to win where it wasn’t last season until they started clicking.
“This is the most comfortable I’ve felt,” said DiBenedetto. “I feel the best about it because of the team I have behind me and because we have all that time last year together where we were rocking and rolling. Going into this year even with the uncertainty of 2022 I feel the best I’ve ever felt in my career.”
DiBenedetto runs well at restrictor plate tracks and throughout the race can be found trying to position himself towards the front of the pack. He has also shown similar speed as the Penske cars at some of the bigger tracks, like Vegas and Michigan. When it comes to shorter tracks, DiBenedetto has also proved that he can run in the top 10.
With the new season starting, I would expect DiBenedetto to continue improving his finishing positions and it’s reasonable to believe he will make the playoffs for the second year in a row. In 2021, he will continue his mission of getting the Wood Brothers their 100th Cup win, which I would expect to come either at a short track or a restrictor plate track.