Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

DiBenedetto: ‘The Journey is Not Over. We’re Just Going to Open Up a Better Door’

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Earlier this week, Matt DiBenedetto finally got the news he had been dreading. Despite being in the midst of a career year, he would not be returning to the driver’s seat of the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota next season.

The Grass Valley, California native classified the news as “devastating” when it was released, but after some time to process what had happened, the always optimistic DiBenedetto did his best to keep a smile on his face despite the uncertainty that lies ahead.

“I don’t want to say I was blindsided. I think I was just trying to be – let my performance behind the wheel do the talking and hope that that would prevail over everything, but sometimes performance isn’t everything,” said DiBenedetto.

“At the end of the day, I’ve said in all my interviews and stuff, the main thing I want everyone to know, fans especially and social media and stuff, is to be easy on our team and Toyota and (Joe) Gibbs and everything because they’re all still great people and they gave me this opportunity to go out do things like we just did today and have top fives and top 10s. I wouldn’t have been able to showcase that without them. I mean heck, I’m driving the JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing), the 18 car at Road America next weekend.

“Obviously, they’re great people and I’m lucky to have the opportunity. I hate it’s coming to an end, but my entire career has been devastation at the time, but it’s always been a better door opening every single time since I was literally a kid. It’s been a tough journey, so I’m kind of accustomed to it and I try and look at it that way. The trend has been that.”

This isn’t the first time that DiBenedetto has had an uncertain driving future. Just last year, he took a chance on himself, electing to move on from Go Fas Racing in an effort to better his career and it paid off. Leavine Family Racing came calling after they entered into a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and in turn, he has been able to showcase his driving talents on a whole new level.

Kicking off the year by leading the most laps in the Daytona 500, DiBenedetto has gone on to score his first two career top-five finishes, along with four top-10 finishes in the last eight races. Days after receiving the sobering news that he’s out of a job, DiBenedetto went out and posted the fastest time in practice and will start Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway in seventh place.

Even with the performance he has shown, that wasn’t enough to keep him in the driver’s seat for 2020 and beyond. Now, he’ll have to go on the hunt for a new job in order to keep racing next year, but he isn’t letting the disappointing news hamper his outlook for the future.

“Just going to have to really pursue everything, but the main goal is to keep proving myself behind the wheel, which I’ve shown I’m here to win and run up front,” DiBenedetto said. “I want to win in Cup, so whatever gets me there – you guys saw last year, I took a huge gamble. My career could have been over, but that’s just how dedicated I am to winning in the Cup Series. I’m not going to just be like oh, this is a job and this will pay the bills. I’d rather live in a box knowing I put it all out there versus just taking a job.

“I don’t want to retire yet because I’m only 28 years old. Just getting started, but I want to win in the Cup Series. That’s what I’ve said and that’s my goal. I’m here to keep on climbing the ladder, not go backwards.”

DiBenedetto won’t be in the hunt for a new job alone as he has received an outpouring of support not only from his fans, but also from his peers in the garage area.

“A lot of drivers reached out to me this week that I have a lot of respect for,” he said of the support he has received since the news broke. “Guys like Kyle Busch, for example, but many of them reached out.

“That means more to me than they know, especially going through a situation where I’m having to be strong for myself, my family and my wife being a big ball of tears, so those things help for me to show her like hey, this is what we’ve proven and done and we’ve gained a lot of respect, so the journey is not over. We’re just going to open up a better door.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.