Matt DiBenedetto is set to make his first NASCAR Cup Series playoff appearance at Darlington Raceway on Sunday, September 6th.
As the checkered flag was falling on the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway last Saturday night, one driver most certainly was breathing a huge sigh of relief. Matt DiBenedetto, the driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford is in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. In his post-race interview, he talks about how mentally exhausting the pressure cooker of a race was for him.
“It was too eventful. I’m mentally worn out. I’m gonna sleep great tonight, but there was so much going on there at the end.”Matt DiBenedetto after qualifying on points for the NASCAR Cup Series 2020 Playoffs at Daytona International Speedway.
DiBenedetto on the Cutline
The team entered the race with fewer than ten points separating themselves and the other two bubble drivers. Namely Jimmie Johnson and William Byron, both from Hendrick Motorsports. Through a combination of a fast car, tenacity, and a healthy dose of luck, DiBenedetto was able to clinch the 16th seed in the playoffs with his regular-season points. This is DiBenedetto’s first playoff appearance, as well as the first playoff appearance for Wood Brothers Racing since the 2017 season when Ryan Blaney was at the helm. DiBenedetto joins Stewart-Haas Racing rookie Cole Custer as one of two drivers making their first playoff appearance.
An Underdog with Talent
Matt DiBenedetto has a tumultuous career that often finds him as the underdog driving for underfunded teams. In his five years driving in the NASCAR Cup Series, he has a reputation for getting everything out of his equipment, and his talent is lauded by the likes of Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. His talent and the recognition from his peers how DiBenedetto ended up replacing the retiring Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing. In his first season with WBR, DiBenedetto has put together two top-five and seven top-ten finishes going into the playoffs. While he has yet to break into victory lane, the success of the No. 21 team indicates that DiBenedetto’s first career victory, which will mark the 100th win for WBR, is not far away.
A Fan Favorite
DiBenedetto has always worn his heart on his sleeve, and that is what endears him to fans. Despite being a growing superstar in the sport, he still comes across as your next-door neighbor.
“I promise you my wife, Taylor, is at home crying right now,” said DiBenedetto when asked what making the playoffs means to his family. “I can bet you anything. My parents are here in the stands. They drove all the way down from North Carolina. My brother in the military, him and his girlfriend were able to make it here, so this is really special to make it in the playoffs.
“My career has been one I had to fight, claw, scratch for everything and it makes me so appreciative. I say the little things, but this is a big one making the playoffs for the Wood Brothers. This is very big, really special and I’m glad we’ll be able to get to work and do the best we can the rest of the season and we have a lot of really good tracks and short tracks coming.”
Matt DiBenedetto Set to Make his First Playoff Appearance
Making the playoffs is huge for the 29-year-old Grass Valley, CA native but what matters is winning the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Championship. As the 16th seed, DiBenedetto enters the first playoff race at Darlington with no playoff points and finds himself five points below the cutline for the next playoff Round of 12. With no regular-season playoff points to lean on, DiBenedetto has an uphill climb for the No. 21 team to make a deep playoff run. But as history has repeatedly shown, never count out the tenacity of Matt DiBenedetto.