Matt DiBenedetto received the news he was hoping would never come. Today, Leavine Family Racing told DiBenedetto that he will not be returning to the race team for the 2020 season. DiBenedetto currently sits in 23rd place in the standings and remains a distant 162 points behind Clint Bowyer for the last spot in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Although Matt DiBenedetto will need to secure an unlikely victory to keep his postseason hopes alive, he has proven not only to Leavine Family Racing but also the entire NASCAR garage that he is worthy of a competitive seat for the 2020 season.
Matt DiBenedetto has accrued two top 5 finishes and four top 10 finishes while completing 93.4% of the laps in his 23 starts in 2019. He also has an average finish of 20.4 and has led fifty laps this season, with all but one of those laps coming from the Daytona 500. In 12 of the 19 races this season in which he completed a race, DiBenedetto has finished better than his starting position. These statistics marked the best of his five year career in NASCAR and the trajectory was only looking up.
DiBendetto has not made his contract situation a secret this year. He has openly expressed that he is consistently fighting for his career. In a recent interview with NBC Sports in the lead up to last week’s race at Michigan, DiBenedetto again reaffirmed his feelings about his current situation,
“The way I try to look at it is just being appreciative that I’ve had to go about it this old school way that has taught me so much and made me mentally strong and tough… It’s made me a better person and driver.”
The ability Matt DiBenedetto has displayed under such intense pressure will only aide him in securing a top drive next season. Now that it is confirmed he will be leaving Leavine Family Racing, he can wholly concentrate on proving his worth to other teams. As Steve Letarte explained on Splash and Go, DiBenedetto has been working with a car that lacks the speed of Joe Gibbs Racing, with which LFR has an alliance. As a result, there is little reason to doubt that DiBenedetto could compete for wins consistently with a top racing team.
The issue troubling Matt DiBenedetto is the lack of available seat for the 2020 season. He has stated how comfortable he is with driving a Toyota and the natural assumption would be for him to make the jump up to Joe Gibbs Racing. Early on in the season, DiBenedetto could have conceivably replaced Erik Jones in the #20 as Jones struggled for consistency in the first ten races. However, since his crash at Charlotte back in May, Jones has dramatically improved his results including four consecutive top five finishes from Kentucky to Watkins Glen.
While it is still likely that Jones and DiBenedetto could swap seats, Erik Jones has worked his way comfortably into the Playoffs on points. The rumors of Christoper Bell moving up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next season for either Joe Gibbs Racing or Leavine Family Racing does not help DiBenedetto’s situation. The Athletic is also reporting that Erik Jones will get an extension with Joe Gibbs Racing. DiBenedetto may need to look elsewhere for seat next season. Ultimately, however, any move would require a shock departure from another driver, which currently does not look to be in the pipeline.
There has been a strong youth movement over the past few years that has negatively impacted DiBenedetto’s ability to sign with a bigger team. The larger organizations have opted to bring up younger drivers from the Xfinity Series. Hendrick Motorsports signed William Byron and Chase Elliott. Penske has Ryan Blaney while Stewart Haas has Daniel Suarez. These drivers are taking the seats that might have otherwise been available to DiBenedetto.
Matt DiBenedetto is too talented of a driver to be left on the outside looking in next season. He has continually toiled away over the years always worried if he would have a job in the sport that he loves. He has always gotten the most out of the cars provided to him, and at just 28 years old, DiBenedetto needs to get a fair shot to win races. Hopefully the relationships he has developed with other drivers and personnel in the garage can help him secure a driver next year, but DiBenedetto faces yet another uphill battle.