Dishing with Matt DiBenedetto (March 2018)

Coming off a solid 22nd at Las Vegas, Matt DiBenedetto dishes his thoughts to us! (Photo Credit: Jose L. Acero Jr/TPF)

Coming off a solid 22nd at Las Vegas, Matt DiBenedetto dishes his thoughts to us! (Photo Credit: Jose L. Acero Jr/TPF)

Each month, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racer Matt DiBenedetto will provide his insights of his life on and off the track. From the progress of his No. 32 Go FAS Racing Ford Fusion team to his take on pop culture, it’s a chance to get inside the mind of this young stock car driver!

In his inaugural blog entry, Matt talks about the start of his year, his new crew chief, and his perspective on social media, among other topics.  It’s time to start “Dishing with Matt DiBenedetto” this month!

Rob Tiongson:  You were making noise with a strong top-five run in the Daytona 500 before the accident on lap 198.  Knowing how fast your car was at Daytona and worked on some things at Atlanta, how excited are you for this season after building on your rapport with the Go FAS Racing team?

Matt DiBenedetto:  I’m excited for sure.  This was my first offseason that I was able to somewhat relax a little bit because I knew my plans for the following year.  It was the least stressful offseason that I ever had.  The only thing that we had to do was hammer on some sponsorship stuff which we’re still doing.  It was and is the most stressful part.

As far as the team, it’s nice working with the same group of guys and knowing what they’re doing and knowing that everybody has their process after we built the team from the ground up.  It started last year when I came over and brought in some of our guys.  That really makes you look forward to the season and be able to go and try to build on what you had previously.

RT:  You mentioned how it was your first offseason knowing your situation heading into the new year. I imagine with the announcement last August at Michigan, it had to be a load off your shoulders.

MD:  Man, I’ve been doing this my whole life in just having to fight and claw to try and have a ride and be seen.  I don’t want to ever be out of sight, out of mind.  That was cool to have that stability coming into this year.  Obviously, the big picture for me, my goal is to continue climbing the ladder.  I’m grateful for every opportunity that I’ve had.

The big picture for me is to be winning races in the near future.  I have a good bit of experience now but I’m also young.  I feel like I have those two things working for me.  When the opportunity comes up to get in a top funded, top-tier ride, I can plug in and go win races.

RT:  When people like Darrell Waltrip praise you, does that humble you when you realize that someone like him acknowledges your efforts?

All things considered, DiBenedetto and his No. 32 team are making tremendous strides. (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

All things considered, DiBenedetto and his No. 32 team are making tremendous strides. (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

MD:  All of the compliments from those guys go a long way.  It means a ton to me.  I think guys like him, Jeff Gordon, and Dale Jr, they’ve really taken an invested interest in what I’m doing.  They understand how hard I’ve had to work to get there.  They also understand how tough it is on small teams to compete and they understand that we overachieve big-time for the budget that we’re on and how small our team is.

It’s cool for your crazy hard work to be acknowledged by those folks.  It’s hard.  You don’t ever want to be overlooked because in our eyes, I see how hard my team works and how hard we work and how much we have to make out of so little.  That’s part of being a very small team.  The big teams are literally on six times our budget.  It’s not double, triple, or quadruple.  They run on over six times our budget.

We’re out there, trying to overachieve and run better than we should for the budget that we’re on and we do that every week.  At the same time, you always think, well I never want to be overlooked just because I’m not running up front, winning races, or in the position to be doing that.  It’s cool to be acknowledged by all those people who know exactly what we’re dealing with.

RT:  Heading into Las Vegas, Randy Cox took over the crew chief duties.  What is Randy like and what does he bring to the table as far as being your crew chief?

MD :  It was just that time for Gene Nead.  We mutually parted ways.  We’re all on good terms and there’s nothing bad there at all. Gene’s been doing this a long time and I think the grind of being on the road every week is hard on people.

It’s a lot of work and I think he was just kind of ready to settle down and spend some time with his family which was understandable.  We could tell it was getting tough on him and very stressful, especially with having to work so hard on a small team.

The first name that came to mind when we knew we were naming a new crew chief, and it all came together quickly, for everyone, including me, my general manager Mason St. Hilaire, and team owner Archie St. Hilarie, was Randy Cox.

We’ve seen what Randy’s done with Cole Whitt.  He was the one that stood out most to me.  He was with Cole for quite a while.  Every time they ran together, they always did what my life motto has been – overachieve.

Those are the kind of people that you need around you.  The ones that always help to make your program better and that’s what Gene did.  That’s what Randy is going to add on to that.  He has a great attitude.  We get along well.

I didn’t know him super well before this, but we have a whole lot of things in common.  We both love cars and are total gear heads.  We like to work out we have a lot of similarities.  He’s just a nice guy.  He’s going to bring a good attitude to our team and a lot of good leadership skills that can rub off well on our guys.

RT:  Last year, we talked about the hot topic of driver interactions with fans, particularly with signing autographs.  Given the paradigm shift this season with the veterans and new racers, how important is it for you and your peers to make a more immediate connection with fans during the year?

Moreover, DiBenedetto appreciates fans and the personalities of NASCAR. (Photo Credit: Jose L. Acero Jr/TPF)

Moreover, DiBenedetto appreciates fans and the personalities of NASCAR. (Photo Credit: Jose L. Acero Jr/TPF)

MD:  I’ve seen, even in my short time in NASCAR, a lot of change in the past few years.  The biggest thing that I’ve seen is that the drivers are more proactive in trying to be a bigger part of the sport and making a positive impact on the sport.

There’s a lot more communication between the drivers and NASCAR.  We all realize how important communication and connection with the fans really is.  Everyone’s been pushing hard to make sure that’s a top priority, so we keep a lot of our fans around and gain new fans and the next generation of fans.

Especially with social media, the world has changed so much that we’ve had to change our thinking, approach, and engagement with fans.  It’s been really cool to see how proactive everybody’s really been.

RT:  While social media has its advantages, there can be some negatives that come with it.  For you and other racers, what’s the fine line between authentic, raw honesty to knowing when some things are better left unsaid?

MD:  I think I probably have a little bit more freedom than most.  We’re able to connect with the fans big-time.  I never really say anything stupid. (laughter) The way I look at my social media, I want to make it authentic and feel like the fans are my friends, not my followers.  I want them to feel like they’re friends with me and part of my journey.

Every tweet or post on social media is from me.  I think that’s the most important thing and people can tell that.  My tweets are normal as if I was friends with people on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

I just try to be myself.  You have to be careful but it’s more in a common-sense way.  Nothing too crazy.  There’s always going to be positives and negatives about everything.  Social media’s made it so easy to engage with fans and it’s helped me to create a brand for myself.  The positives outweigh the negatives by a lot.

There’s always negatives and we’re always going to get good and bad comments.  You’ll get some people who’ll piss you off from day to day, downing you or saying, if we had a top-20, “Oh wow, big deal. Top-20. You suck!” (laughter)

That’s the people who have no idea.  That’s so frustrating from our end because I know how hard we work.  Hey, we just beat people that run on $30 something million and we’re running on $5 million, thank you very much. (laughter) At the end of the day, those are the only things I really have to ignore because in my mind, I just want to go at ‘em and rip their heads off! (laughter)

It drives you insane because it gets you so angry.  That would be the only negative that I avoid but other than that, everything else is pretty much positive. (chuckles)

RT:  That’s funny cause the ones who tend to be negative are the ones who can’t even show their face!  It’s always the egg shape or a random photo.  It’s a newly created profile so you know they’ve lurked and read your stuff.  So, it’s like great, “You spent all day to insult me? That’s pathetic!”

No matter the day, track, or season, DiBenedetto has earned a true fan following. (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

No matter the day, track, or season, DiBenedetto has earned a true fan following. (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

MD:  Yea, I agree. (laughs) You’re always going to come across those folks from time to time.  That’s the part of doing what we do for a living.  I can do everything right and I can go out and win races and whatever.  I’ve been lucky to have a good fan base.

In my mind, I feel like I have the most loyal fanbase in NASCAR.  It may not be a huge fanbase but it’s quite large for someone in my position.  They’re all very supportive.  You’re always going to get a handful here and there who have no idea what they’re talking about! (laughs)

That’s just part of it.  I’ve seen people say negative things about every driver in the garage like Jimmie Johnson, who’s won seven championships. (laughs) You can’t please everybody.

RT:  That’s true.  One thing that I love about your social media pages, especially Twitter, is how you’re like off the track.  It’s no secret that your wife Taylor did not like the Valentine’s Day gift you got her.  Did you find a substitute present for her and did she pay you back for your “thoughtful” plush snake?

MD:  No, that was the only present that she got! (laughs) Just like with my social media, I like to be authentic with my relationship with my wife.

It’s not conventional but that’s just who we are and who I am.  I like to mess with her a lot and play jokes on her.  What better gift could I give her but a stuffed snake for Valentine’s Day?  We named it Bill the Snake. (laughs)

RT:  It was so funny cause you crept up on her and she was startled when you gave her the snake!

MD:  Oh yea, I’ve been torturing her with that thing every day.  I’ll throw it on her when she gets into bed or hide it under her pillow.  She’s petrified of snakes so that makes for a good time.

RT:  Oh boy, oh boy. (laughs) Hopefully, she doesn’t get you back for it.  We’ll have to get her side of the story one day.

MD:  Oh yea, she would be open to it!  She takes a lot of pranks and torture from me, so she owes me back big time!

RT:  Let’s get back on track for a bit.  Bubba Wallace raced to a solid runner-up at Daytona, scoring the highest finish for an African American racer.  How important is it for Wallace, Kyle Larson, and other racers who’ve graduated from the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program to succeed?

MD:  It’s great for the sport.  It’s weird for me to even think of those things.  I look at them as people and my friends.  I don’t think of that stuff until it’s brought up to me.

We need every different type of personality and anything in the garage.  I’m for anything that brings more fans in or brings the connection with the fans or engages with the fans well.  I don’t care who that may be with.  I’m totally for that no matter what it may be.  That’s all great.  We need every personality.

This is my theory and I agree with Dale Jr wholeheartedly and he’s the one who taught me this – we need all personality types in the garage.  Whether it’s Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, or Tony Stewart when we had him in the sport and one of my favorite drivers, or Mark Martin, another one of my favorites, they all had their individual personalities.

We need every single one of them, whether they’re good or bad or whether fans love or hate them, like Kyle Busch.  Some fans are just diehard Kyle Busch fans and love him.  And some of them passionately hate them. (chuckles) Both things are good for the sport.  You need all those types of people.

That’s something I’ve learned over the years.  We need every one of them, especially with some of these guys who’ve stepped out of their rides like Dale Jr or Tony Stewart.  We need big personalities and a lot of diversity to fill in all these shoes to make a big impact on the sport.

RT:  One driver with a great personality who surprisingly entered the year without a ride is Landon Cassill.  You both had some fun last year with the credit card deal at Dover last fall.  What was the genesis of this “bromance” if you will?

MD: (laughs) Oh yea, we got along well because we have similar personalities with what we did with our careers and how we engage with our fans.  We kind of share the same fanbase and we have fun with that.  Since we shared the same fanbase, we wanted to have fun with it and mess with each other.

Mainly, it was fun for us.  That’s really what we did off camera.  I’d give him a hard time.  It was fun to share it on social media to give people some good laughs.  There’s a few people that I pick on and he’s one of them.

Another one is AJ Allmendinger.  Poor guy’s my target now that I can’t disburse my pranks between him and Landon.  AJ’s my general target this year. (laughs)

RT:  Do you pick on him because he’s a big-time cat person or just can easily take the brunt of jokes?

MD:  He’s just a funny guy.  He’s an easy target and we both mess with each other.  It’s ok as he messes with me every week with working out stuff and things like that.  He’ll give me hell about lifting weights and I give him hell about anything I can find. (laughs)

I’ve made jokes about him being a cat person and things like that, so we tend to go back and forth, not even on social media, but with texting or when see each other at the track.

RT:  It would be hilarious to have you both in the same room for an interview because I could imagine the high jinxes that would take place and the stuff I would have to filter out too! (laughs)

MD:  Most of the stuff we say or do to each other, we can’t share on social media! (laughs) Nothing bad, it’s just that we mess with each other big time.

RT:  That’s good cause it’s a 38-week job. It helps to be around people you care about and can joke around with.  If you take things too seriously, it’ll eat you up so it’s good to have that rapport.  AJ’s ribbed me a few times over the last five years so it’s not a NASCAR season without a joke at my expense! (laughs)

By and large, DiBenedetto values balance in life and with his tires. (Photo Credit: Jose L. Acero Jr/TPF)

By and large, DiBenedetto values balance in life and with his tires. (Photo Credit: Jose L. Acero Jr/TPF)

MD:  I feel like I have a good balance of sharing my fun side with fans and my personality.  Also, I show the serious side of me which is honestly how 99.9% of my time is spent with being focused and serious.

I feel like, as far as social media stuff and sharing with fans, I feel I do a good job of sharing both aspects of it, from my life and how hard we work and all I’ve done to get to the point of my life and career.  All my fans get a good balance of knowing who I really am.

RT:  For sure!  That’s what I’m hoping to showcase here with your monthly series.  Let’s get back off track for a moment.  You revealed that you’re a Bachelor fan last June.  With that in mind, have you been watching this current season and has there been a TV game show, past or present, that you’ve always wanted to be on?

MD:  Yes, my wife and I are watching the Bachelorette, the Arie season so that’s always fun and entertaining. (laughs) It’s a guilty pleasure for both of us.  My wife is stubborn and says every season, “No, that’s stupid, I’m not watching it.”  Then I’ll turn it on and I’ll be like, “I’m watching it, it’s funny!”  I’ll turn it on and she’ll pass by and immediately get sucked into it.

This has happened every year.  She gets sucked into it and watches every single episode even though she says, “I’m not watching that. It’s dumb.” (laughs) She goes through that cycle and I watch it cause it’s funny and it’s a guilty pleasure.

As far as game shows, honestly, not really but my sister was on Wheel of Fortune so that was kind of cool!  She got to go on Wheel of Fortune.  Although it would be cool to go on a show like that, I feel like my sister is a lot smarter than me when it comes to things like that. (laughs

I like to only things that I’m good at and I don’t feel like I’m good at a lot of game shows.  Since I’m so competitive, I don’t do anything that I’m not good at.  The only show I would love to be on is American Ninja Warrior.  That would be cool.

RT:  I was wondering about that.  A few of your colleagues like Ryan Blaney and Ricky Stenhouse did it last year.  What will it take for NBC to send you that invite?

MD:  I want to do it.  The only problem that I would have is that I’m too heavy for the show.  I know for a fact that I would not make it through the whole course.  I know that I could do it or do OK.  It’s hard.  That stuff’s harder than it looks.  It would really be tough being 195 pounds or above.  A lot of those guys who are good at it are light and agile.

My wife had a good point and I forgot about it.  Our go to that we would want to be on badly is Lip Sync Battle because we’d be hilarious at that.

RT:  If we had to do that on this monthly blog, we’d have to capture it in video and do like a whole segment of it with no words, just the lip syncing! (laughs) Recently, the Olympics concluded.  Did you watch the games and is there at least one sport that you’re thinking, “I totally can do this?”

Ultimately, DiBenedetto may not aspire to be in the Olympics, but he might have a penchant for a certain music show. (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

Ultimately, DiBenedetto may not aspire to be in the Olympics, but he might have a penchant for a certain music show. (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

MD:  I think, at this point, being a professional athlete, I know that everything is way harder than it looks.  I try my best to never be a person who says, “I could do that” cause they’re the best in the world at what they’re doing.

No, I couldn’t do any of them, but I did watch as much as I could in between my schedule.  I was watching live when Shawn White got the gold when it came down to his last run and my heart was running as fast as it would during my own race, so that was crazy, and I enjoyed watching the snowboarding.

RT:  At least you said snowboarding, not curling. (laughs) I would imagine snowboarding’s a bit close to the adrenaline rush of racing!

MD:  Oh, absolutely!  That’s why I enjoy watching it, that’s for sure.

Editor’s Notes 

Special thanks to Matt and Ryan Ellis of Go FAS Racing for this exciting opportunity that’ll be a staple of TPF each month!  Photos accompanying this feature are courtesy of Jose Acero Jr and Zach Darrow of TPF, whereas noted.

Be sure to “Follow” Matt on Twitter, “Like” his Facebook page, and “Visit” his official website now, or you may just watch the Bachelorette!

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. Born and raised in the Boston, MA area, 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, you'll likely see an article on The Podium Finish by either myself or one of my talented columnists who absolutely have the motorsports passion.

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.

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