In the Fast Lane with Matt DiBenedetto

Without a doubt, Matt DiBenedetto enjoys life with Leavine Family Racing. (Photo Credit: Andrew Fuller/TPF)

Without a doubt, Matt DiBenedetto enjoys life with Leavine Family Racing. (Photo Credit: Andrew Fuller/TPF)

Whether he’s “DiBuritto” or “Guido,” Matt DiBenedetto is one of the most genuine, diligent, and thoughtful racers in NASCAR.  Undoubtedly, much like his comrades like Landon Cassill or Ross Chastain, he is something of a folk hero who serves as a great symbol to the hardworking race fans across the country and world.

In like manner, DiBenedetto’s status as a folk hero transcends beyond his accessibility and connection with fans at the track and on social media.  Indeed, the soon-to-be 28 year-old from Grass Valley, Calif. represents those who believe in themselves and take chances to have a better opportunity for long-term success.

Certainly, DiBenedetto took such a risk late last year following a pair of workmanlike campaigns with Go FAS Racing.  Although both overachieved on the track, the hardy racer took a chance for a competitive drive in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

In this case, DiBenedetto joined Leavine Family Racing for this season.  By all means, this combination has been fun to watch as they made some headlines in this year’s Daytona 500.  Leading 49 laps before a late-race crash, the No. 95 team has turned up the wick in recent races, scoring two top-fives and an additional top-10 in the past five weeks.

Significantly, DiBenedetto scored his career-best finish as of press time with a fourth at Sonoma.  Along with that, his strong performance at the winding road course tied for the team’s best finish (fourth at Daytona with Michael McDowell in 2017 and Kasey Kahne in ’18).

More importantly, this young man is more than just a fan-friendly driver with a passion for fitness and pranks with his wife Taylor and his friends.  Above all, he is a superstar racer whose stock is on the rise all while finding comfort and confidence with his new racing home.

Earlier in the year, I caught up with DiBenedetto, who also served as our monthly columnist for the past two seasons.  Without further ado, let’s make it so by getting “In the Fast Lane with Matt DiBenedetto!”

Rob Tiongson :  So Matt, this is your first season with Leavine Family Racing. You guys have been reeling off some great performances. Daytona, for instance, was a career run for you. So knowing the potential of this team, how confident are you that you may knock out some wins before the regular season’s over with?

Truly, DiBenedetto has stepped it up in the past month in his No. 95 Toyota. (Photo Credit: Andrew Fuller/TPF)

Truly, DiBenedetto has stepped it up in the past month in his No. 95 Toyota. (Photo Credit: Andrew Fuller/TPF)

Matt DiBenedetto :  Yeah, I mean, it’s awesome to be with the team and the Toyota family, the alliance with JGR. So we have obviously fast race cars. We find ourselves kind of racing in the top 15 weekly, around that area, which is really good for us. So hopefully we can consistently run up there and finish top 15 area, and who knows? Yeah, we could get lucky and sneak off a win would be the ultimate goal.

Rob Tiongson :  The thing I love about you is that you took a huge gamble on yourself last fall. You put all the chips on the table, not knowing if you were going to have any opportunity, and you got one of the best open seats for this season. So were there times you felt pits in your stomach late last season, or did you feel like, “All right, I’m just going to leave it up to fate that I’m going to be okay”?

Nowadays, the Californian smiles as brilliantly as sunshine on race day. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

Nowadays, the Californian smiles as brilliantly as sunshine on race day. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

Matt DiBenedetto :  Yeah, I mean, it was definitely a leap of faith. But I mean, yeah, I was a pretty miserable person to be around for a little bit – I’m not going to lie – just because I was so nervous, on edge. I mean, my whole life, career, everything depended on it basically working out.

The gamble’s working out. But I knew it was a necessary move for me to have a chance at accomplishing my goal, which is getting to where I’m winning in the Cup series. And obviously this is where I wanted to be is with LFR because they’re a growing team. I saw they’re doing nothing but the right things to grow into a winning organization.

Rob Tiongson :  And you’re certainly getting there. Now, with some tracks, like Texas and Loudon, we’ve seen the addition of the PJ1 surface. From your vantage point, what are the keys to success to getting around these track, given the new package and all?

Matt DiBenedetto :  Track position is big just because, with this new rules package, it’s really tough to pass in dirty air. So I’d say track position. Hoping that qualifying maybe works out your way is a big deal, but it’s totally a gamble. So I’d put track position at the top of the board. And obviously, your car handling well.

Rob Tiongson :  Now, what’s it been like for you to have the resources of Joe Gibbs Racing, whether it’s their crew members or your teammates like Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and a bunch of the rest of the team?

In the meantime, DiBenedetto works towards long-term success with LFR. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

In the meantime, DiBenedetto works towards long-term success with LFR. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

Matt DiBenedetto :  Yeah, it’s obviously great. Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota is one of the best. They’re a winning group. So yeah, we’re not at the same level as Furniture Row Racing was, but we’re hoping to grow to there is the goal. So we don’t get every bit of information and whatnot, but we do have some nice quality race cars and good resources to work with and good backing from Toyota, so that makes it very nice.

Rob Tiongson :  Absolutely. Now, I know you’re big on the Reddit scene. I’m finally getting into it as well. What are some of the things that you like about interacting with the fans over there who are pretty knowledgeable or pretty savvy about things over there?

Matt DiBenedetto :  It’s fun. They’re very on top of their NASCAR news, for sure, and there are a lot of clever folks in that group, so it’s always the most fun content that I find in there.

Rob Tiongson :  Now, I know last year when you were doing a blog with us, you always talked about your hijinks with your wife, Taylor. Has there been some recent incidents lately where she’s paid you back for some of the things you did last year?

Matt DiBenedetto :  No, she’s still way behind. She still owes me a lot.

Rob Tiongson :  Including the pet snake incident?

More often than not, DiBenedetto's put that No. 95 Toyota towards the top-15. (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

More often than not, DiBenedetto’s put that No. 95 Toyota towards the top-15. (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

Matt DiBenedetto :  Yes. Yeah. She’s still way behind. She hasn’t gotten me back yet. I’m still waiting.

Rob Tiongson :  Absolutely. Now, let’s do a little thing we’ve never done before called free association. You tell me the first thing that comes to mind with these random things, when you’re ready. Favorite vacation destination?

Matt DiBenedetto :  It would be… I want to go Turks and Caicos.

Rob Tiongson :  Favorite guilty pleasure food?

Matt DiBenedetto :  Krispy Kreme.

Rob Tiongson :  Social media?

Matt DiBenedetto :  Good interaction.

Rob Tiongson :  Favorite PR person?

Of course, DiBenedetto loves working with his PR rep Jess Rohlik. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

Of course, DiBenedetto loves working with his PR rep Jess Rohlik. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

Matt DiBenedetto :  Of course, Jess. She’s the best.

Rob Tiongson :  Who would be second behind on that one?

Matt DiBenedetto :  Nobody. She set the bar too high.

Rob Tiongson :  So pretty much it’s over with Ryan Ellis. You guys have broken up?

Matt DiBenedetto :  Oh, yeah, yeah. I give Ryan a hard time. Ryan’s one of my best friends. So I tell him he sucks and Jess is way better. (laughs)

Rob TiongsonNow, I don’t know if you watched the Netflix documentary about the F1 drivers and teams from last season.  But it gave fans an up close look at how life is like in that sport. Would you be open to such an idea in NASCAR? And if so, would you want to star in it, and which drivers and teams would you think would be a good cut for that?

Matt DiBenedetto :  Yeah, I haven’t watched it, but I have heard really good things about it and that it was really cool. Yeah, I think anything that gives a good up close look at what we do is neat, and I’d always be more than happy to do that if it gives fans a better perspective.

Rob Tiongson :  Absolutely. What is the most overrated word in racing that makes you go, “You know, I’m just going to grab a nice little bottle of wine and just drink to it?”

Just don't bring up a certain two word phrase to "Guido" during the race weekend! (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

Just don’t bring up a certain two word phrase to “Guido” during the race weekend! (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

Matt DiBenedetto :  This year, the magic words are dirty air. I’ve said the words dirty air more this year than I have in my entire career.

Rob Tiongson :  Aren’t you glad I have not mentioned it at all?

Matt DiBenedetto :  (laughs) Yeah, exactly.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to Matt and the wonderful folks at Leavine Family Racing for this great opportunity!  Along with TPF, you can keep up-to-date with Matt on his FacebookTwitter, and official website!

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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