Dishing with Matt DiBenedetto (April 2018)

Once winter became the spring, Matt DiBenedetto and his No. 32 have been making big gains on the track.

Once winter became the spring, Matt DiBenedetto and his No. 32 have been making big gains on the track.

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 this month’s blog entry, Matt talks about the growth of his team, the All Star Race package next month at Charlotte, the no ride height rule, and his Texas experiences!

Rob Tiongson :  It’s been an eventless stretch since we last talked.  Jokes aside, you and your team successfully pitched for a sponsor during the ISM Raceway weekend last month.  How much did it mean for you to have the amazing support and outreach from fans and your colleagues?

DiBenedetto and his No. 32 team partnered with Zynga Poker at ISM Raceway with an effective social media campaign last month.

DiBenedetto and his No. 32 team partnered with Zynga Poker at ISM Raceway with an effective social media campaign last month.

Matt DiBenedetto :  Oh, man.  It was just completely overwhelming and heartwarming from both ends, from the drivers and competitors pitching in as well as all the fans, reaching out and wanting to help.  It was really an overwhelming experience that I just didn’t expect at all.

That was incredible for people I’ve looked up to for so long like Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Darrell Waltrip.  Those guys are some of my heroes and I’ve looked up to for so many years.  For them to want to help and help me and a small team like us meant so much more than they could ever know.

RT :  For sure, that was terrific to see.  It showed the power of social media and that people understand your story and that the little team that could still can make an impact for a sport that’s regaining traction.

Fontana and Martinsville showed flashes of brilliance before some setbacks derailed promising solid finishes.  Given the short turnaround time with new crew chief Randy Cox, what has he brought to the table to improve the No. 32 team’s overall performance?

Notably, DiBenedetto and the No. 32 team have stepped up their game since the arrival of crew chief Randy Cox.

Notably, DiBenedetto and the No. 32 team have stepped up their game since the arrival of crew chief Randy Cox.

MD :  Randy’s going to be a real big help to our team.  He’s so smart and he has so much knowledge.  On top of that, he and I have a lot of the same interests.  We both like working out, lifting weights, and we love cars.  His level of knowledge and experience in this industry is incredible.

He’s really going to help our team a lot by bringing in some good leadership skills.  Also, he’s very methodical.  He’s very organized and he’s smart about making the most out of the racecars and what he wants done with the racecars and going into the weekends with a plan.

Randy has a background in being in the R&D departments at teams where he’s been the behind the scenes guy where he can greatly improve a racecar in general.  He’s going to bring a lot of leadership skills and a lot of methodical changes to our racecars to make them faster and throughout the race weekend, he has a test plan for all the practices.

So, he’s very organized.  Things have been incredibly smooth since we’ve had him on board.  That’s going to help us a lot.

At the shop, he’s always working on things to make the most out of our racecars and keep improving.  He’s so competitive, he’s every bit as competitive as me which is very tough to find and he’s just a great guy.  I can’t say enough about how much he’s been helping our team and how much I love working with him.

RT :  It seems like we saw that communication and chemistry come into play.  You guys were solid during the West Coast Swing.  Recently, you nabbed a solid 16th at Texas, which was impressive considering how demanding and grueling that race was.  How big of a boost of a boost was it for you guys?  Do you feel like this could be a consistent thing moving forward?

MD :  We don’t have the money and the budget to run in the top-15 consistently.  That’s unfortunately how it is.  We run the same cars most of the time.  We run the same few cars at all the racetracks and that’s just the situation we have but we make the most of it.

As far as what I expect, we’re going to be better because of Randy coming on board.  We already have a great group of people and I think we’re going to be better because I feel like we really make the absolute most out of our racecar every week and week out.  That can in turn get us some good finishes like we had with a 16th at Texas because we can outrace all the people we’re supposed to do.

Throughout the race, Randy’s good at keeping up with adjustments and the racetrack and having a good plan on how we can outrace all those people and to outrace people that technically we shouldn’t and have a lot higher budget than us.  That’s where I think a lot of these people are going to be in some trouble because we can outrace them due to Randy being a big help on our team.

RT :  Those are some great points that you brought up and also, as you mentioned last month, you talked about how much of a financial gap your team faces versus the bigger teams.  For the record, how many cars does your team have?  Don’t most of the teams have about 14 to 15 cars?

By far, DiBenedetto's confidence with his team speaks volumes about the heart and soul of this young racer and his incredible teammates at Go Fas Racing.

By far, DiBenedetto’s confidence with his team speaks volumes about the heart and soul of this young racer and his incredible teammates at Go Fas Racing.

MD :  Oh, they have even more than that for a year, surprisingly.  For our regular fleet, excluding the superspeedways and road courses, for the regular tracks like short tracks and mile and a half tracks, I think we only have three or four cars.  We alternate between the same few cars and they’re on a constant rotation and we run our cars often.

For example, we ran the same car at Atlanta and Vegas.  We turned our Atlanta car around and brought it to Vegas during the next week.  Luckily, it came out of Atlanta without a scratch and we sent it to Vegas where we finished 22nd.  We were fast.  We may not have a whole ton to work with but we’re growing as a team and getting better.

And we’ve got the best people, and I’ll put our people, our guys, my crew chief, everyone, against everyone in the whole garage.  We have a group of racers.  We may not have a ton to work with, but we keep on growing and trying to build our partnerships and build our budget, little by little.  And we keep getting better as a team every week.  Hopefully, every year, we can make the most of it.

RT :  Isn’t that what life is all about?  Sometimes, you go into the great unknown.  When you love something, even if it’s scary, heck, you’ve got to go for it.

Let’s get a bit technical for this month’s column.  NASCAR recently modified the ride height rules for the cars.  In layman terms, what has this rule change done to the cars and has it improved the on-track product for all teams?

MD :  It’s hard to tell whether it helped or hurt small teams.  I don’t really think it helped or hurt but it probably gave more freedom to the teams that do some different things setup wise which sometimes, when we have a little more creativity with our cars, that can sometimes be better for the smaller teams like us.  We can do a little more, but I don’t have anything negative to say about it.

RT :  Along those lines, the All-Star Race at Charlotte will have a different package including a restrictor plate engine.  As a driver, do you feel like slowing a car down at the intermediate track will help with the on-track product?  Or is this just an element that NASCAR’s trying to figure out?

MD :  I honestly don’t know how to answer that question because as a driver, you enjoy going as fast as possible.  And I would hate to be going slower. (laughs) That’s just me.  I would just hate to be going slower in general because I enjoy going fast and driving fast racecars.  I like feeling like we’re hauling the mail.

Sometimes, in some cases, it can hurt the racing a little bit.  If I had to do something like race a superspeedway every single weekend, I would go insane because it’s OK to do occasionally. But it’s a totally different style of racing.  It’s OK to do a few times a year but I wouldn’t want to do it on a weekly basis where we’re racing slower racecars on a regular basis. (laughs)

RT :  For us folks who don’t race, I imagine it’s like having to deal with that big test every quarter back in school.  At Daytona or Talladega, it must feel like that big test where if you pass it, it’s like a win.

MD :  The other thing to keep in mind is that technically, they cut the horsepower of our racecars down a few years ago.  Our lap times stayed the same and almost improved.  It may have sometimes slowed our top speed down because we have less horsepower, but it increased our mid-corner speed.  We’re going a lot faster through the turns.

In a way, you can add more horsepower to the cars and make them faster and it’ll slow us down in the corners, which can make the racing better.  I don’t have the answer to it but it’s an interesting topic for sure.

RT :  Good insights to have and it’s interesting to gain your perspective on this element of racing.  Following Martinsville, you had quite the eventful week here in Texas. First, you got to visit the Dallas Cowboys training facility. What was it like to spend the day with your Ford comrades at a legendary football team’s venue?

MD :  That was unbelievable.  I’m a lifelong Dallas fan, so to go there, in general, was crazy, and to hang out with my Ford teammates and continue our team building was fun and competitive, like when we were playing flag football with all of them.  It was really one of the most fun days I’ve had in a long time.  That was a cool experience.  The Ford family is a very tight group.  So, it was cool.

RT :  It seems that way.  Clint’s very excitable and energetic.  Joey Logano’s a top consistent performer but a Patriots fan.  As a Cowboys fan, do you sometimes like to mess around with your comrades about football?

MD :  Oh yea, we have a lot of fun, especially on that day when we were giving each other a hard time about what teams we are fans of and such.  I probably had the easiest day since I’m a Dallas fan, so I just blended right in.

RT :  Dallas is a pretty consistent performer and I know that Emmitt Smith was at Texas that race weekend.  Did you get a chance to meet him over at Joey Logano’s pit?

MD :  I wish I could’ve met him and talk to him.  I didn’t know he was there.  I got to meet Jason Garrett when we were at the training facility, so I got to pick his brain and ask him a lot of questions.  I’m a big fan of Jason.  It was cool to meet him and ask him some behind the scene questions that I’ve always been curious about, how he manages a team like that, and what he does on a day to day basis so that was neat.

RT :  That’s pretty cool and I imagine that’s got to be a football fan’s dream to talk to their favorite player or coach.  After spending time with the Cowboys, you had a crazy time trying to get into Texas Motor Speedway last Saturday for an appearance.  Is it safe to say that moment topped one of your craziest on track moments in your career?

MD :  It was funny.  The lady at the front has quite the reputation apparently.  She did not care if you were a driver or anything.  She did not care who you were.  I was trying to get in there for my next appearance for the racetrack and I was getting a golf kart to get in. And she took her job a little too seriously.

Sometimes, people go a little over the top and throw the old common-sense theory out the window.  I just decided to have fun with it.  I’m not an angry type of guy or anything.  I just like to have some fun.  It didn’t matter to me.  I thought it was funny, so I figured I’d make a joke out of it rather than getting mad.

I don’t get upset that easily so I just figured I’d laugh about it and make a little video.  It was a good opportunity to do that.  It was funny when you get some of those people like that who don’t use their brain sometimes and it was one of those funnier moments. (laughs)

RT :  Sometimes, you’ve got to laugh at life like an overzealous driver on the highway or someone at the track…

MD :  Yea, this lady…(laughs) Everyone at Texas Motor Speedway is so cool and nice.  It’s one of my favorite places to go.  This was a rare instance.  The people are great, so this was a rare instance.  That lady, I could’ve gone either way with it.  She was very rude and malady and a smart aleck and she loved her power.

Instead of being mad about it, I laughed about it and had some fun with it.  A lot of people would’ve been extremely angry but I’m just not one of those kinds of people.  I choose to look at the funny side of everything.

RT :  At least she had a nice driver to deal with.  She did not have an angry racer to deal with! (laughs) Given how physically fit you are, it’s tempting I’m sure to try some of the local meals and restaurants near or by the tracks.  What’s your guilty pleasure go to place to unwind during some down time?

MD :  My biggest downfall…well, I like food and all food in general.  Good Italian food is my favorite.  My family is a little Italian, so I like carbs and Italian food. (laughs) I eat well although I try to eat well on the road, so I try to make health conscious decisions just because I work so hard on the fitness side of things.

Recently, I started CrossFit.  I do CrossFit three times a week and I still go and do cardio and weightlifting two times a week.  I work too hard on all that stuff to blow it with a poor diet, so I’ll splurge here and there.  But in general, I really cleaned my diet a pretty good bit and I’m trying to get in the best shape of my life, so I can be the best I can be in the racecar during these hot summer races.

RT :  That’s quite true because we have a lot of superspeedway races during these summer races.  I imagine it pays off to be in good shape and prepare prior to the race weekends.

MD :  My workout stuff, the one I do, it pushes me most everyday to my breaking point.  I work extremely hard, harder than anybody does at the gym.  Come time when these hot, long races come about, you’ll have a lot more mental toughness and a lot more focus. In general, you’ll be in better shape.  I’ve upped it a lot this year and I’m going to be in better shape this year than I’ve ever been my whole life between my diet and my workout routine.  It’s been tough, but I also like it.

RT :  CrossFit is not something most people can do so that’s impressive and intense stuff!  I wish I could do it but my goal’s just to run for four miles regularly!  Getting back on track, NASCAR seems to be seeing some good things happening with the extension of Monster Energy as the entitlement sponsor for the Cup Series and Busch returning as the sponsor for the Pole Award.  As a racer and participant of the sport, is this encouraging to see for the sport’s long-term prospects in terms of its viability and economic status?

Furthermore, DiBenedetto has scored two finishes of 16th or better in two of the past three Cup races.

Furthermore, DiBenedetto has scored two finishes of 16th or better in two of the past three Cup races.

MD :  It’s awesome.  I was glad to hear that.  Everyone wants a sponsor like that to stick around for a long time to come because Monster is such a cool brand that we all love, and I support them.  Their clothing is awesome and everything about them is cool.  I love some Monster Energy drinks although my diet stuff’s so strict.

It’s just such a cool brand that we all love representing.  It’s neat that they’re enjoying their partnership with NASCAR and all of us and see the benefit in it.  I think it’s cool.  I’m glad that they’re on board for a bit and keep going with all of us.

RT :  Your team announced a cool program for businesses to get involved with the No. 32 team with incentive, tiered programs.  What was the genesis behind this and how can companies partake in it?

MD :  When all of that happened in Phoenix and we were unsponsored, as a last ditch effort on social media to reach out to fans, it opened our eyes with how much everybody wanted to be a part of it.

We wanted to reward people. Rather than them going out there, working and trying to help us, and getting just a thank you, we wanted to say, “Hey, if we land a sponsor because of you, there should be a reward.”  So, that’s why we created the Team DiBuritto program.  They can get a pass to the race or whatever it may be.

We got Zynga Poker on board with us at Phoenix through all of that which was an amazing help and I think we can grow a great partnership with them.  It could be big.  That is the kind of stuff we’re looking at for sure.

RT :  Spring and summer leads to some good movies or sleeper shows on TV.  Has there been a show or a movie that you’re looking forward to?

Ultimately, one has to wonder if DiBenedetto has seen "A Quiet Place."

Ultimately, one has to wonder if DiBenedetto has seen “A Quiet Place.”

MD :  The one upcoming movie we’re looking forward to is the Avengers: Infinity War.  Our favorite TV show in general is This Is Us on NBC which is in between seasons but that’s our favorite show right now.

Editor’s Notes 

Special thanks to Matt and Ryan Ellis of Go Fas Racing for this wonderful opportunity that’s now a staple of TPF each month!

Be sure to “Follow” Matt on Twitter, “Like” his Facebook page, and “Visit” his official website now, or he may send Ironman after you!

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 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 his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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