After a wild regular season finale last weekend at Daytona International Speedway, Matt DiBenedetto secured his first berth in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. However, when you look at the path he has taken to get here, you would have been hard-pressed to figure he’d be among the 16-most elite drivers in NASCAR by 2020.
Last August, DiBendetto was released from Leavine Family Racing, in favor of Toyota prospect Christopher Bell, leaving the 29-year-old questioning if he would still be full-time at NASCAR’s top-level in 2020.
Less than a month later, DiBenedetto’s short tenure as a free agent was over, signing a one-year agreement with Wood Brothers Racing to run the team’s No. 21 Ford Mustang, thanks in large part to Paul Menard, the team’s departing driver, who suggested the team pick up the 29-year-old journeyman for 2020.
Move forward one year and DiBenedetto finds himself as one of the 16 drivers in the series’ ten-race post-season, narrowly edging out seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson for the final spot.
The playoff berth is a huge deal for DiBenedetto and wife Taylor, as the now 29-year old decided to take a chance on himself and his ability following the 2018 season, leaving a stable ride at GoFas Racing in hopes of finding a more competitive ride for 2019 and beyond.
The Grass Valley, California-native moved to Leavine Family Racing for the 2019 season, scoring his first ever top-five finish at Sonoma, and nearly going to victory lane later in the season at Bristol Motor Speedway, being passed by Denny Hamlin with 12 laps to go in the race, finishing a career-best second-place, igniting “The Last Great Colosseum” in cheers for DiBenedetto.
Even after an impressive season in 2020, the age-old question still hangs in the balance: “Will Matt DiBenedetto return to Wood Brothers Racing in 2021?”
In a post-race media availability, DiBenedetto seemed optimistic about his chances of returning to the No. 21 team in 2021, despite rumors of Ford-aligned NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe being contenders to take over the ride next season.
“…when I came over here to The Wood Brothers, with this team and the alliance with Team Penske, it was very encouraging that they heavily expressed that my contract was a multi-year opportunity,” said DiBenedetto. “They [Wood Brothers Racing] heavily expressed that they wanted this to be a relationship that we would build for a long time to come, and build this team and continue to improve, to the point where we are winning races and consistently running up front.”
So have talks progressed, or even begun, with DiBenedetto and Wood Brothers Racing for a contract extension through at least 2021? DiBenedetto says they haven’t had any of those discussions at this time.
“…we honestly haven’t even talked a bit, not even the tiniest bit about next season moving forward, because we have been focused on making it through Daytona and into the playoffs, I’ve never even brought it up.”
The late contract negotiations between DiBenedetto and Wood Brothers Racing could potentially offer an issue for the 29-year-old driver, as Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric continue to be in championship form in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and may be looking for a seat in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2021.