On Thursday Morning, Team Penske and Wood Brothers Racing confirmed their respective driver lineups for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, with 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion, Austin Cindric, set to take over the No. 2 Team Penske Ford Mustang, and four-time Xfinity Series winner, Harrison Burton, set to pilot the historic No. 21 for Wood Brothers Racing.
With this news, came the realization that Matt DiBenedetto would no longer be with the organization, as the driver posted a nine-minute heartfelt video to Facebook on Thursday Morning, confirming that he would once again be a free agent and giving his thoughts and raw emotions on the situation.
“I didn’t sleep well last night and I thought about it, and I woke up this morning… and it’s okay to have human emotions, and I’m not going to lie to you, it’s okay to be pissed off, angry and bitter, and all of the above,” DiBenedetto said in the posted video. “It just, is what it is, we’re humans, we’re not perfect, that doesn’t change my faith and that there’s a plan for all of this, but it doesn’t make it not suck, because it does suck.”
For DiBenedetto, the majority of his career across NASCAR’s top-three series have been based on single-year deals with various organizations, having competed full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series for the likes of BK Racing, GoFas Racing, Leavine Family Racing, and now Wood Brothers Racing.
The 29-year-old says that he found out that he wouldn’t be returning to Wood Brothers Racing next season on Wednesday Evening, further saying on SiruisXM NASCAR Radio that he got the phone call around 5:30pm. The news was devastating for DiBenedetto, who has worked to put together two top-five and five top-10 finishes this season, despite a heaping amount of misfortune.
“I was so freaking lucky – and still I am — to be driving the 21 car, I love it, and I want to get that 100th win for [Wood Brothers Racing] bad.”
The 2021 season didn’t exactly start the way that the driver or team was hoping for, starting the season with three consecutive finishes of 27th or worse, placing them 34th in series standings and already at a massive deficit to the playoff bubble, after only three races.
The organization’s next nine races were met with nine consecutive top-20s, including a pair of top-fives at Talladega and Kansas, launching DiBenedetto up 18 spots in the point standings, now in legitimate contention to secure the driver and team’s second consecutive playoff berth. However, the team’s luck decided to slam on the brakes, with five finishes outside the top-20 in a six-race span from Dover to the first leg of the Pocono doubleheader.
“This 21 team has also been broken for a while,” DiBenedetto continued. “You try to give the benefit of the doubt, work through it, put all of your effort into it, to try and make it work and click, and it wasn’t, and i’ve said it for a long time. Our team wasn’t clicking, that’s not disrespect to the team or any particular person, it just wasn’t working, we weren’t executing.
“I’ll be the first to say it before everybody, performance wasn’t where it needed to be, we would have some speed, and we would have some good runs and finish second, and this and that, but it just wasn’t clicking… and it’s just like the relationship with your wife, or your friends, or your family, the relationship with the team just wasn’t there, it’s been broken.”
Then, during the week of the NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway, the organization decided it was time to make a change, replacing the team’s long-time crew chief Greg Erwin with engineer Jonathan Hassler, in an attempt to regain the chemistry that the team once had.
“Your biggest regret ever in life, will be wasting time. Time is the one thing you can’t get back in life, and you know what, that’s kind of what’s biting me right now, is we wasted some time, and I’ll take some of the blame for it, but we let our team be broken for too long and now fast-forward, we shook things up on our team, changed leadership on our team and then boom, light switch, immediately, my goodness, that’s it, it’s clicked, it’s there and the results have shown.”
In the five races since making the crew chief change, DiBenedetto has scored a pair of top-10 results at Road America and Atlanta, but the Grass Valley, California-native indicates that the results don’t even show how much the team has clicked in recent weeks.
“We go to Nashville, we have electrical issues, but we’re running in the top-10, great communication throughout practice. Road America, practice, excellent changes, go out and qualify, nail it, qualify seventh, run up front all day, lead a lot of laps, didn’t have a strong long run car, but still some things that need to be worked on as a team, but top-10 finish and led a lot of laps.
“Last weekend’s race at Atlanta, our car wasn’t a rocket ship, made the most of it, made the right adjustments, another top-10, and we’re just getting rolling. Our team’s clicking, finally, but guess what, it’s too late. I know it’s going to work out as it’s supposed too, but i’m just expressing my frustration, I’m just saying the way it is.
“I’m getting the shit end of the deal, for it”
While it may seem like a brutal situation, it’s not an unfamiliar one for DiBenedetto, who decided to ‘take a chance on himself’ at the conclusion of his second year with GoFas Racing, by seeking out a more competitive ride in the NASCAR Cup Series. He landed at Leavine Family Racing in 2019, and posted some impressive results, before being released at season’s end in favor of Christopher Bell.
Even after his first season at Wood Brothers Racing, where he secured his first-ever berth in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, as well as career-high totals in top-five and top-10 finishes, DiBenedetto’s ride was seemingly in danger, with Team Penske’s option to extend DiBenedetto’s contract being drawn out until October.
“Now, I’m sitting here in a similar situation now knowing what the future will hold, I feel like I will land on my feet, it’s all going to be part of a greater plan, and it’s going to work out greater than ever. I know I’m going to win in the Cup Series, and it’s just amazing what a crazy roller coaster ride of emotions this story’s been, and I don’t know why I get put through these same tests, I can’t even script the story the way it is, it’s just unreal when you look at it.”
Despite the negatives surrounding him, DiBenedetto was able to remain positive on the team’s outlook for the remainder of the year, and the opportunity to “go kick ass” and get the 100th victory for Wood Brothers Racing, that has eluded him for the last season and a half.
“I’m super appreciative for the opportunity, appreciative to have a chunk of season left to go out there and kick butt, and just know that I’m here to win in the Cup Series, and I’m going to throw out all of the heartache, all the frustration and all of the obstacles, all of the craziness that i’ve told you about, all this stuff.
“I don’t care, I’m going to overcome all of that, I will, and we are going to win and I know and feel confident that we are in the best position, ever, finally, and my future is going to be full of that, and we’re going to have success and I’m here to do that.
“I will die before I ever give up, I don’t care what obstacle is thrown at me.”
You can watch the entire video from Matt DiBenedetto here:
You can read more regarding today’s announcements from Team Penske and Wood Brothers Racing, here:
To take a look at the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Driver / Team Chart, click here: