Many expected Matt DiBenedetto’s fortunes to change when he announced that he was moving to Leavine Family Racing for the 2019 season, but nobody could have imagined just how dominant the driver would be in his first race with his new team.
DiBenedetto rolled from the Daytona 500 starting grid in the ninth position and the driver of the No. 95 Procore Toyota Camry wasted little time working his way to the front of the pack.
The California native took the lead for the first time on lap 7, when he would pace the field for 15 circuits.
In all, DiBenedetto led a race-high 49 laps. Impressive feat, but even more so when you factor in that he had led just 23 laps in 140 previous Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts.
“Unbelievable how fast my car was,” DiBenedetto said after the race. “I’ve never had a piece under me like that, so that’s amazing.”
As the race worked into the closing stages, DiBenedetto was leading the charge on the outside lane looking to chase down the race lead. He was getting a lot of help from Paul Menard.
However, on lap 191 all hell broke loose.
Menard gave a little too hard of a nudge to the back of DiBenedetto’s car. The contact sent the No. 95 machine spinning across the track in turn three.
When the sparks dissipated and the dust settled, 21 cars were mangled in one of the biggest crashes ever in the Daytona 500.
DiBenedetto’s dream day came screeching to a nightmarish finish. Still, the driver was able to see the silver lining.
“At the end of the day there were a lot of positives to take out of this day,” DiBenedetto explained. “I’m heartbroken, but there’s a lot of positives that we came and put these cars together quick. Had a lot of changes with this team and we came out and led the most laps and were flying in our Toyota Camry today. A lot of momentum going into the season even though it kind of ended pretty heartbreaking.”
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