Matt DiBenedetto Hopeful for Consistency with Team 83

Through the adversities and successes attained in a promising NASCAR Sprint Cup career, 25-year-old Matt DiBenedetto has been optimistic and sanguine with his team and his No. 83 Cosmo Motors/BK Racing Toyota Camry effort.

At times, the 2016 season has been trying for DiBenedetto and crew chief Gene Nead, with solid race efforts derailed by bad luck that creeps up on them.  This young driver and his hardy team are resolute with riding through their struggles as they realize how great races like that at Bristol (sixth in the spring and 17th in the delayed August race) and a 20th at Phoenix have shown what they’re truly capable of when it all comes together.

Upbeat, humble, and most of all, good humored to a degree that might challenge Kenny Wallace and Ken Schrader, DiBenedetto is just as quick to focus on the positives of his team’s potential with becoming a solid top-15, top-20 effort as he is to “shaking it off” as he did two weekends ago at Bristol.

Matt aka Taylor Swift DiBenedetto addresses the Bristol crowd with the real Taylor DiBenedetto. (Photo Credit: Tami Pope)

Matt aka Taylor Swift DiBenedetto addresses the Bristol crowd with the real Taylor DiBenedetto. (Photo Credit: Tami Pope)

While it’s not expected that DiBenedetto will write an album or collaborate with Taylor Swift, what can be anticipated is a bright future for this young man and the No. 83 team.  As successful as the spring race at Bristol was, it’s safe to say that he is intent on having more races to label as the best day (yet) on track.  He remains steadfast and fearless about taking on the challenges that the best in Sprint Cup racing face on a weekly basis.

Recently during the July race weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, we caught up with DiBenedetto to talk about this season, working with teammate David Ragan, and yes, even a high school superlative in a NASCAR yearbook.  Although he drew a blank space (and that’s the last Swift reference) with that, rest assured, he’s got a great situation with his No. 83 team and this combination is on the right track towards consistent, stellar results.

Right now, let’s talk racing with Matt DiBenedetto and get to know more about the Grass Valley, CA native here on The Podium Finish!

Rob Tiongson :  Let’s talk about your season thus far.  You’ve got a strong sixth at Bristol in the spring.  What are some things that you’ve liked about the season and what are some things that you and the 83 team are working on to improve during the second half of 2016?

DiBenedetto takes on the high banks of Daytona. (Photo Credit: Tami Pope)

DiBenedetto takes on the high banks of Daytona. (Photo Credit: Tami Pope)

Matt DiBenedetto :  We started off the year pretty well for the most part.  At Phoenix, we had a good run and things were really looking like we were going to have a good season.  At Bristol, we had a real good run. Unfortunately, after Bristol, we’ve had some really, really bad luck and you’ll have that in racing.

Everything’s kind of worked against us but it’s not the team’s fault.  Everyone on the team has done a really good job. They’ve been working hard. Everybody’s been doing everything perfectly.  Just blown tires, getting caught up in wrecks, random things.  We’re hoping to get it turned around here soon and get back on track.

RT :  Like how Mother Nature evens things out, do you feel like some of the bad luck will balance out with more good luck in the future?

MD :  Yea, I’d say so.  It comes and goes in some races with having good luck and bad luck.  You can have a stretch of things not going well and it can all turn around.  Hopefully, we can have a nice good solid stretch of races.

RT :  What are some of the things that you like about racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway?

MD :  It’s one of my favorite tracks to come to.  I love coming here actually.  I like the flat tracks like here and Phoenix.  Places like that are really fun.  I like it especially because I won here in a K&N Pro East race in 2009.  That holds a special place in my heart.  I really get around the track well and it’s one of my best tracks.  I like coming here.

RT :  Tell me what it’s like to work with a veteran teammate like David Ragan.  Has he helped you with some of the things that you might be struggling with at some tracks and how has the collaboration process been?

MD :  It’s been great.  He and I get along really well and work together real well.  He has a lot more experience than I do.  As far as getting in the racecar and driving it, that’s not so much the areas where we help each other as much or where he helps me.

I think where he helps me the most are with the finer details like pit stops, maximizing how to get on and off pit road, or some things off track and just the little things that he’s learned through experience that I don’t have…he’s the best teammate I could ask for.

RT :  You’re part of the crop of top young drivers in NASCAR right now.  How important is it for drivers like yourself to keep in touch with the older fans and to connect with the newer fans to fill up the grandstands and increase engagement with our sport?

DiBenedetto takes the time to connect with NASCAR fans. (Photo Credit: Tami Pope)

DiBenedetto takes the time to connect with NASCAR fans. (Photo Credit: Tami Pope)

MD :  That’s the thing that you want to make sure is never lost…engaging with the fans as much as possible because without all of the fans and the demographics of fans, we’d not be here.

The sport is based on the support of the fans and the fans supporting our sponsors.  We couldn’t be without all of them.  That’s something I love to do which is engage with the fans and doing anything I can for NASCAR because that’s what it’s about.

RT :  Let’s talk a bit about your spring race at Bristol.  What was it like leading up to that race and did you feel like that it could be your day or was it a surprise?

MD :  I think a top-10 was definitely exceeding our expectations.  Usually, good runs for us are finishing in the top-20.  We finished sixth – I mean, that was a deal where things were lining up great, having a really good car, and everything going right for us during the race.  That was definitely the most that we could ask for.

That was an incredible race.  At the end, we just kept on picking them off, you know, one or two at a time.  Before you knew it, we were tenth, then eighth, and then sixth.  If you could have days like that or top-10’s, top-15’s, those are like wins for us.

RT :  When you came into the sport, at least when you climbed up the racing ladder, did you have a particular driver that you looked up to with how they performed on the track and away from the track?

MD :  Growing up, I was a Jeff Burton fan.  The first die-cast car that I bought when I was a little kid, before I raced, was his No. 99 Exide Batteries car.  I was a big fan of his.

I always looked up to Carl Edwards and I’ve followed him since he was in Trucks.  Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart…I didn’t have one specific favorite.  Dale Earnhardt Jr, actually, another piece of merchandise I’ve still got is his Budweiser jacket I bought at Auto Club Speedway.  Those were the group of drivers that I pulled for the most.

RT :  When you realized that you raced alongside them for the first time, was it a surreal moment for you in realizing they were just another competitor on the track?

One of the great stories thus far in 2016 has been DiBenedetto's strong sixth at Bristol in April. (Photo Credit: Tami Pope)

One of the great stories thus far in 2016 has been DiBenedetto’s strong sixth at Bristol in April. (Photo Credit: Tami Pope)

MD :  Yea, I think when you’re strapped in the car, you’re just really competitive.  When you’re in that moment and focused, you’re treating it like a race.  We’re so competitive, at least I am, to drive up to the front.

After it’s over, even at Bristol, I didn’t think about it during the race but afterwards, I was like, “Oh wow, we just passed Kevin Harvick in the end!” (laughter)  He’s one of the best.  It’s hard not to think about those things after it happens.

RT :  We’re going to do a little Free Association right here!  You can tell me the first thing that comes to mind and you can be as unfiltered as you’d like!

Here goes…competition!

MD : NASCAR.

RT :  Driver that you’d like to hang out with the most.

MD :  Um…oh my goodness! (laughter) The first one that comes to mind…Dale Jr!

RT :  If you had a high school superlative in a NASCAR yearbook, which one would it be?

MD :  Oh man! (laughs)  Gosh, I don’t even know.  I’m drawing a blank on that one.

RT :  If you had the power to change up the NASCAR schedule and put a track that you think would be awesome for Cup…past or present, it would be…

MD :  Rockingham.

RT :  How come?

MD :  It’s close to home and it’s a cool track with a lot of history.

RT :  If you could choose any era of NASCAR to compete in, in any kind of car, aside from this one?

MD :  If I had to choose, I enjoyed watching the racing when I was young in the 1990’s.

RT :  The aero war part of the decade?

MD :  Yep, exactly!

RT :  In terms of this second half of the season, what would you consider some of the ingredients to make it a good stretch for your team?

Watch for the No. 83 team to truly shine down the stretch of 2016. (Photo Credit: Tami Pope)

Watch for the No. 83 team to truly shine down the stretch of 2016. (Photo Credit: Tami Pope)

MD :  Points wise, luck has hurt us.  We’re really at a point where it’d be tough to recover as well as we’d like in points. More so now, it’s about focusing on getting some good finishes and just maximizing our good days and having really strong runs as often as we can.

I’m not too concerned about points.  Just go out, recover, have some good luck in our side, and get top-15’s and top-20’s!

Author’s Notes :  Special thanks to Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 83 BK Racing Toyota Camry team for this wonderful interview opportunity during the July race weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway!  Photos accompanying this article, including the featured image, are courtesy of Tami Pope.

We’d also like to thank New Hampshire Motor Speedway as well for allowing us to make interviews like these possible for our readers and race fans alike.

If you’d like to learn more about Matt, Like his Facebook page, Follow” him on Twitter, and “Visit” his official website now!  Thanks once again.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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