CHARLOTTE At 24 years old, Matt DiBenedetto has seen his racing career nearly end seven times. He now finds himself competing in the Sprint Cup at the NASCAR level on a full-time basis.
After getting started in NASCAR with Joe Gibbs Racing as a development driver, team president J.D. Gibbs told BK Racing owner Ron Devine about the young racer. DiBenedetto since made his first Daytona 500 and captured a career-high sixth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway.
North State Journal caught up with DiBenedetto at Charlotte Motor Speedway to discuss his breakthrough season before the Coca-Cola 600.
North State Journal: How has your second Sprint Cup season gone for you so far?
Matt DiBenedetto: It’s been a really great season. We’ve had our ups and downs like any team, but performance and speed-wise, we’ve shown a big improvement. We have newer race cars and have shrunk down to two teams, hiring quality crew members from MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing). All of those things have led to huge improvements for us.
Do you feel having a two-car team has helped this program focus more on you as a driver?
It’s been a lot of things combined, but that has been a key element for me. At the race track when we had three cars, it wasn’t so bad. We could compare notes and work together. But we are short staffed, so what it did was it hurt the production at the shop. Now we have more guys focused on the day-to-day activities and finding speed before we get to the track.
How much have things changed since Bristol?
Oh, it’s been crazy. (Laughs) A lot of it has been support from fans that’s been almost overwhelming at every race. People are sharing this feel-good underdog story with us and it’s been really awesome every week to enjoy it with them. To have a whole community like Reddit supporting me and BK Racing has been a lot of fun. I’m really appreciative to them for everything they do to spread our story.
Are you hoping to add sponsors like Chipotle or others with the nickname “DiBurrito?”
Sure! (Laughs) We always need some more sponsors, so the more the merrier! It’s a sponsor-driven sport, so we’re not opposed to bringing any of them on. I’m not opposed to Moe’s either, especially if it fits with the DiBurrito name. It would be a great fit. I think we need to look into it!
What has the journey been like for you to get to this point?
It’s been of a heck of a journey, I’ll tell you that. I couldn’t even list the ups and downs on 10 pages over the last few years. I thought my career was over I counted seven times like completely over. And then somehow another door would open.
I never questioned myself as a driver, but didn’t know where I’d land. At the end of the day, it’s all been worth it to end up here at BK Racing. I mean, I’m here living out my dream in the Sprint Cup Series. I’d say things worked out.
Did you ever think maybe you should pack it up?
Several times. There were so many times when it seemed like this would just never happen for me. I presented myself so many times without sponsors backing me, which doesn’t get you very far. I just couldn’t bring myself to call it quits, though. This is my life and I had to fight for it. I’m so glad I did.
How perfect of a situation is it to drive for BK Racing?
I’m thankful every day for them taking this chance on me. I love it here because it’s a small family team. We don’t have a huge budget, so when we do have a great run like Bristol it makes everything worth it. The most exciting thing is seeing the team’s hard work pay off with good results.
Knowing that I have their full support gives me confidence that I can push our cars to the edge each week. If you have doubt in the back of your mind that your team doesn’t believe in you, it can wear down a driver. I don’t have to worry about what happens because I know this team has my back.
How much of your career has been shaped by Joe Gibbs Racing?
I truly owe everything to Joe Gibbs Racing. They got me in the door in the NASCAR world and gave me the opportunity as a development driver when no one else would. My opportunity got cut short due to funding, not my driving, so that was frustrating. But if it wasn’t for them, we might not be talking right now.
What is the overall importance of the Coca-Cola 600 on the NASCAR calendar?
It’s a tough one, man. (Laughs) Going 600 miles is obviously something we prepare a little more for both physically and mentally. You have to feel really good that day just to make it to the end. We always want to run well in Charlotte because it’s everyone’s home track, but the 600 means just a little more.
What are your overall expectations for the rest of the season?
We just want to run consistently each week to keep building this program. I think when we finish inside the top 20 those are good showings for us. As a small team, that means we beat a lot of teams that run with significantly more funding than us. My goal week in and week out is to keep our team competitive.
We’ve had some tough luck lately, but we can still fight our way back in the points.