If Matt DiBenedetto doesnât land another shot of driving for a top-25 race team, he wonât look at the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series season with an at-least-I-got-my-shot attitude.
âIâve always been that stubborn guy that Iâm going to win in the Cup Series and that was it,â DiBenedetto said. âThat was all that has been on my mind, âŚ especially after this year climbing into quality equipment, Iâm like, âIâm going to win in the Cup Series.â
âThatâs my life goal. If I donât complete that, then I have nothing.â
The 28-year-old DiBenedetto currently sits on the outside looking in when it comes to quality rides for 2020.
Unlike other sports that have trade and free agency deadlines, the NASCAR âsilly seasonâ is a 365-day-a-year cycle with teams able to fire or hire drivers at any time and sponsors often weighing influence â including extra cash â to get the driver they want.
DiBenedetto found out a couple of weeks ago that Leavine Family Racing wouldnât pick up his option for 2020, leaving the door open for Joe Gibbs Racing to loan Christopher Bell to fill that seat.
Bell, who has an Xfinity Series-high six wins this year, has said he doesnât know where he will race in 2020 (JGR already has picked up his option), but sources said he will fill the No. 95 car at Leavine while current JGR driver Erik Jones has agreed to a 1-year extension to continue driving the JGR No. 20 car.
JGR, the flagship Toyota team, can pledge more support for its alliance with LFR by loaning Bell to the organization.
âIâm upset that my passion, talent, ability wasnât everything to keep me here,â said DiBenedetto, who is 22nd in the standings with five top-10s and three top-five finishesÂ in 24 races. âIâm not upset with the team or the guys at Toyota or anything.â
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Beyond DiBenedetto, the top-25 drivers without set deals set for next year: Chip Ganassi Racingâs Kurt Busch (eighth in the standings), Stewart-Haas Racingâs Daniel Suarez (16th) and Clint Bowyer (17th) and JTG Daugherty Racingâs Chris Buescher (20th).
All those drivers are in talks with their current teams and sponsors to remain, and all could return to their current seats for 2020.
The 40-year-old Bowyer, a 14-year veteran, might be in the most precarious position. Cole Custer, 21, son of SHR President Joe Custer, is in the Xfinity Series championship hunt with five victories this year and gives SHR a younger and likely cheaper option.
Bowyer, who has 10 career victories and finished second in the 2012 Cup standings, sits outside the playoff cutoff by two points heading into the penultimate regular-season race Sunday at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Another option for Custer could be if SHR does a deal with Go Fas Racing for an alliance next season. An alliance would allow SHR to unload excess inventory as NASCAR prepares to go to a new version of its car in 2021.
Corey LaJoie sits 29th in the standings in his first year in the Go Fas ride replacing DiBenedetto, who decided during the 2018 season that he wanted to go find a more competitive ride and told the underfunded single-car team he wouldnât return. That gamble worked out for DiBenedetto â at least for one year.
The question for DiBenedetto remains can he land a better ride in 2020 than what he had in 2019 or even 2018? Less than a week after finding out he didnât have a ride for 2020, DiBenedetto finished a career-best second at Bristol, where he led 93 laps until being passed by Denny Hamlin with 12 laps remaining.
âTicked off or angry wouldnât be the right word because Iâve just learned over the years that you have to look at everything from a positive standpoint,â DiBenedetto said. âIf I got mad over everything thatâs effed my career, Iâd be a mental basket case.
âI look at it in an appreciative fashion and that this is going to open another door.â
One seat is open for 2020. David Ragan, 30th in the standings, has announced he wonât return to full-time racing next season, leaving a spot open at Front Row Motorsports.
In addition to Bell and Custer, one other top Xfinity driver â 2018 champion and current points leader Tyler Reddick â appears ready for Cup. Whether Richard Childress Racing can find a spot for him or field an additional carÂ remains to be seen, but Reddick could have options outside the RCR stable.