Matt DiBenedetto is one of the few people who have squeezed sunshine and rainbows out of social media, which at times resembles a vicious cyber cyclone.
DiBenedetto, who currently has 105,000 followers on Twitter, has used social media to build his fan base since getting his first NASCAR Cup Series ride in 2015.
When DiBenedetto declared his free agency midway through the 2018 season, his fan base pushed for his hiring at Leavine Family Racing, which lost Kasey Kahne to health problems. He got the ride.
DiBenedetto showed his talent in that car by leading 49 laps of the 2019 Daytona 500 then scoring three top-5 and seven top-10 finishes.Â He had a stirring second-place run in Bristolâs summer night race.
When the rumor mill had Christopher Bell driving Leavineâs No. 95 Toyota in 2020, DiBenedettoâs fans clamored to keep the California native in the car. That didnât happen.
And finally, when the 2020 seat opened at Wood Brothers Racing following the retirement of Paul Menard,Â social media demanded DiBenedetto get that ride.
Wood Brothers Racing did just that in early September.Â They will hand the keys of the No. 21 Ford to DiBenedetto starting with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 16. The Woods credit Menard for securing DiBenedetto.
âFirst thing out of Paulâs mouth was âGet Matt,â â team owner Eddie Wood said. âSo right away, we started a conversation with Matt and thatâs the only direction we went. And Iâd like to thank Paul for putting us in that direction.â
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Itâs another step forward for the likeable 28-year-old driver, who openly expresses emotion.
âItâs been really cool to get that much support from people,â DiBenedetto said. âItâs been overwhelming for me and my family. People embrace the story and they have followed along on this journey.
âI think they feel a passion for what I do in racing and that I just live this stuff. I have worked and sacrificed everything just to have a shot at making it here. I guess this is like a Cinderella story and itâs not finished yet, thatâs for sure.â
DiBenedetto has advanced through the ranks in a manner drivers advanced in the old days. If a driver could take a back-marker car up to mid-pack, they would get a mid-pack ride. If they outperformed at that level, they would get a chance with an elite race team.
Wood Brothers Racing, which has a strong technical alliance with powerhouse Team Penske, is a proving-ground ride. The team has two Cup Series wins since 2011. Both of those drivers advanced to bigger teams.
âIâm here to do what I set out to do my entire life, which is win in the Cup Series,â DiBenedetto said. âThis is my year and opportunity to do that.â
He might not be in this situation today had it not been for his rabid social media supporters.
âThis has been a fan-driven (phenomenon) getting me to where I am today,â DiBenedetto said. âIâm a big part of the social media and my followers and the support Iâve had in the tough times and people rallying behind me and pushing.
âWe live in a world where social media can be mostly negative, itâs amazing the feedback I get. You can hardly find a negative comment. Itâs neat to see everyone in so much positivity in a world where thatâs not so common. To see that really is heartwarming.â