Some NASCAR Cup Series drivers are uncertain as to whether or not they will be returning to their current rides in 2022. However, Matt DiBenedetto does not find himself in that situation as he knows he will not return to the seat he now occupies. At the same, however, the 29-year-old racer does not know exactly where he will be next season.
DiBenedetto is currently the driver of the famed No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford, which has an alliance with powerful Team Penske Racing. But at the end of this campaign, the Grass Valley, CA native will yield that seat to reigning NASCAR Xfinity Series champion and Penske development driver Austin Cindric which will leave the veteran of six seasons at the top level of the sport uncertain of his future plans.
But even with that uncertainty, the driver is encouraged. After beginning this year with four consecutive results outside the top-15, the No. 21 has recovered to post six straight finishes of 14th or better. The driver who was once as far back as 37th in the standings has, as a result, risen to 17th overall. To show his team’s recent strength, DiBenedetto led the field to the white flag last Sunday at Talladega before coming home 5th in the final rundown.
“We have some good momentum, as everybody has seen, and that’s encouraging,” DiBenedetto said in a media teleconference this week. “At the start of the season we’ve had a lot of things out of our control to happen to us but there’s nothing we can do about that. We’re kind of on a roll and showing the strength that we do have as a team, that we’ve known we have. So that’s awesome and super encouraging. We’re feeling good about it. Obviously, we had a shot to win Talladega and had a top-10 the week before. We’ve had a top-10 then a top-5 going into Kansas this week.”
With no established plans for next season, does DiBenedetto feel pressure to perform?
“I don’t know if pressure is a good word,” he explained. “I feel like I’m almost numb to pressure because of my whole career path and some of the obstacles we’ve overcome. I look at it as it’s more encouraging and exciting because we have so much momentum on our side. We’ve gained so many points in such a short time and recovered to a level that I didn’t know we could recover to so quickly. And we’re still on the up. I feel like we’re just getting started. Instead of pressure, I look at it as more exciting like, heck yeah, we’ve got momentum, we’re putting together smooth races, we have fast race cars, we have a great team. All that is my personal perspective.”
DiBenedetto began his Cup Series career with a stint at BK Racing then moved to GoFas Racing for a time. But the sudden retirement of Kasey Kahne opened the door for him to take over the No. 95 Toyota for Leavine Family Racing until that seat was given to fast rising Christopher Bell as that young driver was being primed for a ride with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Just as things looked bleak for DiBenedetto’s future in NASCAR, Paul Menard suddenly retired from the Wood Brothers ride opening up that seat up at the beginning of 2020. All of those moves have taught this driver to stay focused on the task at hand and not worry about what’s next.
“My whole career I’ve had to become more accepting and okay with the unknown and rolling with it,” DiBenedetto declared. “Anything is possible, I guess. In the 21 ride, I had no clue that was even a possibility because I had no clue Paul Menard was retiring. Going back to the 95 car, I had no clue Kasey Kahne was going to step out of that thing and retire as well. My career has been so full of so many unknowns and I couldn’t have envisioned any of the things that have happened to get me here. But it’s really trained me to focus and to be better at focusing on what’s in my control and that’s why I don’t even stress the slightest bit about it because of my past experience and knowing how I got here.”
The popular racer believes he has to just keep working toward his ultimate goal of winning races and finding success in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“I’ve got a heck of a good ride and of we keep running up front and positioning ourselves to have a shot to win, one of those wins will come. If I run up front and let my performance do the speaking for me, things will work out for next year.”
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
Respond to this piece on Twitter –> @RichardAllenIDR
or on Facebook –> InsideCircleTrack/Facebook