Following the 2018 race season, Matt DiBenedetto’s fourth year competing at NASCAR’s top level, the Monster Energy Cup Series, he chose to leave the team he was with to essentially become a free agent. DiBenedetto had no other deal lined up or guaranteed but was placing a bet on himself that someone would pick him up. That team was the No. 95 of Leavine Family Racing, an organization that was looking to make some major changes to include a possible manufacturer change from Chevrolet to Toyota and an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. When all the T’s were crossed and the I’s dotted, Matt DiBenedetto was set to embark on the best opportunity of his career.
“Oh man, just fate. I believe in fate for sure and it felt like the right move to make because I knew I needed to make a bold move and continue climbing the ladder”, says DiBenedetto on leaving a team without another ride guaranteed, “I didn’t want to get stuck where I was at. I wanted to continue my journey to the top to have a shot at winning races, running up front, and climbing that ladder to success in the Cup series. I took that step back to try and advance my career and get a better opportunity. Thank goodness everything lined up and it paid off.”
The deal proved to be a positive move right from the word ‘go’. Matt DiBenedetto led 49 laps at the season-opening Daytona 500, more than double the laps he had led in his entire career. Though the finish didn’t reflect the way the No. 95 ran, Leavine Family Racing had brought a race-winning car. Recently at Sonoma, DiBenedetto finished fourth on the road course, the first top-five of his career. The team also picked up a 12th-place finish at Bristol, another of the driver’s better tracks. Highlights like that provide optimism for the team on where they are and need to improve moving forward.
“Toyota is awesome, that’s kind of home for me,” You know, that’s where I got my start in NASCAR. They are really actively involved in the teams and its a small kind of family type group feel which is perfect for us. And they’re super active in growing us as a team which is exactly what we needed.”
DiBenedetto says the partnership with Toyota has already brought results for his Leavine Family Racing team.
“I think it showed right out of the gate, we fired off at Daytona and arguably had one of the fastest cars there, led the most laps in Daytona 500. We’ve had a lot of fast race cars. We had really bad luck to start the year but then finally, luckily at Sonoma, a track where a driver, a team, everybody can make a difference cause you’re out of the gas, using the brake pedal and really wheeling the car. Go out there and race and drive it up to the front and finish fourth.
“Just having good consistency and solid runs,” says DiBenedetto about the focus and expectations for the rest of the season. “And improving our mile and a half program. Those would be things to kind of circle. Cause the whole first half of the year, we had fast runs and things could have easily could have flip-flopped and went our way and we could have had quite a few tremendous runs. So just look to have that consistency and some things go our way that were a little out of our control too early in the year. And then click off a lot of top -15 finishes and just stay consistent.”
The No. 95 crew will have the opportunity to evaluate their mile and a half program with Camping World 400 on Sunday, June 30th where Matt DiBenedetto qualified in the 30th starting position. If you can’t be at Chicagoland Speedway, watch it on NBCSN at 3 pm ET.