After catching the world’s attention last year, Matt DiBenedetto hopes to come out strong this season once again – just with a different team.
During the off-season, DiBenedetto made the switch from BK Racing to Go FAS Racing for the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
“I’m really excited going into this year,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “It’s a really good opportunity for me and, as well as, everybody that came over with me. My crew chief Gene Nead and I are both pumped up about it as we know that we can come in and really turn the program around and take it to the next level to run competitively. I think if we go in there and run significantly better than it has been in the past couple of years, it’ll reflect well on us.”
DiBenedetto enters the upcoming season coming off a solid campaign last season with BK Racing, which started off well a couple of solid finishes, highlighted by the sixth at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“It started off with us just setting the world on fire for being a really small team and being unfunded,” he said. “Then the middle part of the year was really rough, and it was not due to lack of performance. It was some of the worst luck in my career. We cut a whole bunch of tires, which was completely out of our control. Just had a lot of issues through the middle part of the year that killed us in points. The end part of the year, we got things back on track, got the money off our back, and got right back in rhythm to finish off the year solidly.
“So assessing the whole year performance wise, I was more than pleased. Our guys did a good job. There are some things that happen that are out of your control that you can’t help, but I was pleased.”
On the flip side, last year wasn’t the best season for Go FAS Racing with only four top-30 finishes (highlighted by a 19th at Talladega). However, DiBenedetto feels they’ll be competitive this year based on the commitment shown by team owner Archie St. Hilaire, and bringing Nead over from BK with him.
“Gene is so valuable to have on the team,” he said. “He makes a huge difference and will play a key role in what will make us competitive this year. He does a lot more than just crew chief as he’s good at multi-tasking. He will connect everything together for this entire program, and make it different than in year’s past. He and I work together so well that it just makes it so nice that when we get to the track, he understands what exactly what I want, and we communicate so well. It’s cool that have people have noticed our relationship, and everyone at Archie and those at Go Fas recognize that.”
With the changes that they’re putting in place, DiBenedetto is hopeful that, as a small team against the bigger organizations, they can run inside the top-20 on a consistent basis throughout the year, with the possibility of putting together a couple of stronger runs at the superspeedways and short tracks.
Notably, out of the races on the schedule, Bristol Motor Speedway is the biggest on DiBenedetto’s radar heading into the season. DiBenedetto has always seemed to perform at the half-mile bullring, as noted with a sixth place finish last spring. He also showed speed in the fall, coming back to finish 17th after going three laps down earlier in the event with a flat tire.
“We’ve had a lot of success at Bristol, and that’s just a place with the characteristics that it has a lot of fun to it,” he said. “I’m most excited about going there as we can perform well there with some of the other principles being thrown out the window. We can be a bit more competitive there than some.”
Besides breaking down the factors of working with a new team, there’s also the new points-segment system in which NASCAR announced earlier this month that goes into effect for this season. While there have been mixed reviews from the fans, DiBenedetto notes he is one of the many drivers excited about the system, based partially on how it was put together.
“I think every one of us is supportive of it because it was a collaborative effort,” he said. “It wasn’t just NASCAR – but it was NASCAR, drivers, everyone involved listening to the fans and everyone involved to come up with this format. It was really cool to see everyone work together to come up with the format and be on the same page. I think it’ll be great for the sport, and things change over time, and you need to adapt to it in my opinion.
“I feel this is a step in the right direction and will reward people for having great performance during the regular season and individually in the races. For the smaller teams, it’ll give us the opportunities that we may not have had before. It’ll give us a chance to use pit strategy to get up front and flip flop the field quite a bit when we start the next stage.”
If everything can come together for DiBenedetto, there could be some magic produced once again, just like at Bristol this past season when he caught the world’s attention with a sixth place finish. It’d also help further establish his standing in NASCAR’s top-tier series.
“Even though it technically wasn’t a win, I mark that as the highlight of my career just because I felt like that race established myself in the Cup Series,” he said. “But I’ve worked so hard my entire life to get here and have the opportunity. But to have that run, it felt just a little bit like a sigh of relief that okay, I finally got to display what I can do, and I belong in the series, and if I get the opportunity with a top team, I can guarantee I can win races. That race showed that I belong there and in the series for a long time to come.”
EMAIL ASHLEY AT firstname.lastname@example.org
FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.