Part Four No. 48 Series pose answers to two questions, can Matt DiBenedetto get the opportunity of a lifetime? And, what are his chances of falling upward one more time?
Matt DiBenedetto is arguably one of the biggest feel-good stories in recent NASCAR memory. The former NASCAR-Next driver and Joe Gibbs Racing prospect has worked himself from the near bottom to the top of the sport.
Matt DiBenedetto’s NASCAR Cup Series History
His NASCAR Cup career began in 2015 with BK Racing. A sixth-place finish at the 2016 Bristol spring race and heartfelt interview gained him an instant fan base. After leaving BK Racing for the 2017 season, he spent two seasons driving the No. 32 car for GoFas Racing before landing in the JGR aligned No. 95 car for Leavine Family Racing for the 2019 season.
DiBenedetto had a breakout year in the No. 95, particularly in the back half of the season, when he scored several top-fives and even more top-tens, coming just a few laps short of his first win at the Bristol night race in August last year.
All the while, DiBenedetto continues to endear himself to fans. When the announcement came that he would not return to the No. 95 car in favor of Christoper Bell, fans were dismayed. Then, more news came a few weeks later that DiBenedetto would take over for the retiring Paul Menard in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford.
The 2020 Season for DiBenedetto
DiBenedetto’s 2020 season is off to a hot start. In just four races before the pandemic break, DiBenedetto is displaying strong performances, including matching his career-best second-place finish at Las Vegas. While it’s clear that DiBenedetto is poised to have the best year of his career, he once again has a cloud of uncertainty hanging over him.
The Potential Future of the No. 21
DiBenedetto is reportedly only signed to a one-year deal with the Team Penske satellite Wood Brothers Racing. Both parties have expressed a desire to extend that relationship into the future. The uncertainty and cutthroat nature of the NASCAR business, however, once again threatens to displace Matt DiBenedetto from a ride.
Austin Cindric, the son of Team Penske President Tim Cindric, is a rising star in NASCAR as an early favorite for the Xfinity Series championship. It’s likely that if Cindric moves up to the Cup Series in 2021, it would be for the satellite Wood Brothers Racing. Matt DiBenedetto may once again find himself out of a ride because of the full slate of strong drivers already driving for Team Penske.
So, is the No. 48 in DiBenedetto’s Future?
If DiBenedetto is displaced, it may present the opportunity for the popular driver to fall into the yet another better ride, namely the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48.
DiBenedetto is extremely popular with fans, finishing third in the 2019 Most Popular Driver fan vote. He is also very popular with his fellow drivers, having received praise from the likes of Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and most notably co-owner of the No. 48 car Jeff Gordon.
At this point in his career, Matt DiBenedetto is a proven veteran who gets the most out of his equipment and then some. There’s little doubt in his ability to find success if he gets the chance to drive a top-tier Cup car. He may well get that chance with Hendrick Motorsports.