It is so hard to not root for Matt DiBenedetto. While he's been working hard to make a name for himself over the last several years in NASCAR's Cup Series, he really turned some heads last season in the #95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota. In the 2019 Daytona 500, he led a race-high 49 laps and was on his way to his first victory when he was collected in "The Big One" with only 15 laps to go. During the race at Sonoma, which was Darrell Waltrip's final race as an announcer, Matt drove a car featuring a tribute to Waltrip and finished in 4th place. But the biggest head-turner of them all came in August at Bristol Motor Speedway. Two days prior to the Bristol race, Matt announced that he would be leaving the #95 at the end of the season. In effect, he was driving for a ride for 2020... and what a drive it was! I'll never forget it. He led 93 laps at Bristol and was THISCLOSE to winning his first race, but damage after contact with Ryan Newman caused him to lose the lead to Denny Hamlin with only 11 laps to go. Matt ended up with a heartbreaking yet career-best 2nd place finish.
Shortly after Bristol, Paul Menard announced that he would be leaving the famed #21 Wood Brothers Ford at the end of the 2019 season and Matt would be in the car starting in 2020. Matt started 2020 with a 19th place finish at Daytona, but rebounded with a second place finish at Vegas. That would be followed by a 13th place finish at both Auto Club and Phoenix, and then Covid-19 paused the NASCAR season until this past Sunday at Darlington, where Matt finished 14th and found himself 9th in points.
The revised NASCAR Cup schedule has another Cup race tomorrow evening (weather permitting!) at Darlington at 6pm EDT, and then the boys stay at home for the 61st running of the Coca-Cola 600 from Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday at 6pm EDT. Another race from Charlotte will follow on Wednesday, May 27th at 8pm EDT.
Matt was kind enough to call and chat earlier today about Darlington and Charlotte, and it was really fascinating to hear a driver's perspective of everything from no practice before the race to no fans in attendance at the track. Here is our chat in it's entirety.
In the interview, Matt mentioned that he has been doing Cameos with all proceeds going to his local animal rescue where he got his dog Brian. If you are interested in having Matt do a Cameo for you, here's an easy link!
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 28: Matt DiBenedetto poses for a photo during NASCAR Production Days at Charlotte Convention Center on January 28, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images