Monday, 14 October 2019

NASCAR: Why Matt DiBenedetto is a perfect fit for Stewart-Haas Racing – Beyond the Flag

NASCAR: Why Matt DiBenedetto is a perfect fit for Stewart-Haas Racing – Beyond the Flag
05 Aug

If he loses his ride at Leavine Family Racing after the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series season, Matt DiBenedetto would be a perfect fit at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Matt DiBenedetto is not under contract to return to Leavine Family Racing as the driver of the #95 Toyota for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season.

But despite the fact that he and the team have really started to elevate to a new level and he has secured several solid results, there have even not been talks of a potential contract extension between him and team owner Bob Leavine.

The 28-year-old Grass Valley, California native, however, is not worried about his future. Here is what he had to say about the matter over the race weekend at Pocono Raceway, according to NBC Sports.

“I’ve had to fight and claw so hard, now that I’m in a good, quality ride with a great team that I love, I’m just 100% focused on performing. That’s what we‘ve been doing. I know that anyone — not to sound arrogant — but they’d have to have their heads examined if they get rid of me. Because nobody will do a better job in my car than myself.”

I don’t think there is anybody who is going to disagree with that.

After recording a top finish of 12th place and an average finishing position of 24.47 in the season’s first 15 races, DiBenedetto and Leavine Family Racing have taken a clear step forward over the course of the most recent six races. He has recorded three top eight finishes, including the first two top five finishes of his career, with a career-high finish of fourth place in the race at Sonoma Raceway in these six races, and, his average finishing position in them is 12.83.

But with the prospect of Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity Series superstar Christopher Bell being promoted to the Cup Series next season and Joe Gibbs Racing Cup Series driver Erik Jones retaining his ride with the team, DiBenedetto may need Leavine Family Racing to become a two-car team in order to continue driving the #95 Toyota.

There are several factors to consider when it comes to this situation, but at the end of the day, it boils down to a few key decisions that are primarily in the hands of Joe Gibbs Racing, number one being whether they apply additional pressure (and money) to Leavine Family Racing to sign Bell assuming they re-sign Jones, which they have no reason not to.

DiBenedetto deserves to stay with Leavine Family Racing, and that is clearly what he wants to do. However, if Jones stays at Joe Gibbs Racing, Bell is promoted to the Cup Series with Leavine Family Racing and Leavine Family Racing do not expand, that likely won’t happen.

If it doesn’t, DiBenedetto would be a perfect fit for Stewart-Haas Racing.

The futures of two of Stewart-Haas Racing’s four Cup Series drivers, veteran Clint Bowyer and former Joe Gibbs Racing driver Daniel Suarez, are uncertain beyond the conclusion of the 2020 season.

If Stewart-Haas Racing decide to replace one of them, it will likely be with their superstar Xfinity Series driver, Cole Custer, even though they don’t typically sign young drivers and Custer is only 21 years old. But if they replace both of them, DiBenedetto as the replacement for one of them would also make sense.

Stewart-Haas Racing have not kept the same driver lineup from one season to the next since from the 2015 season to the 2016 season, and with all things considered, Bowyer and Suarez have not really done themselves many favors on performance alone to warrant contract extensions, even with the latter only being in his first season driving for the team.

DiBenedetto made the bold move last season to leave Go Fas Racing to effectively gamble that he would be signed by a better team, and it paid off. If he ends up being cut by Leavine Family Racing, he would effectively be in the same position but through no fault of his own, and Stewart-Haas Racing would be in a position to make sure he doesn’t stay without a ride.

DiBenedetto and team co-owner Tony Stewart don’t exactly have a friendly history with one another, but an incident that happened over four years ago shouldn’t keep the team from signing a driver who has proven that he can get the most out of his equipment on any given race weekend. He has, like he said, clawed hard to get to where he is today, and that has not gone unnoticed by anybody.

Next: Top 10 NASCAR drivers of all-time

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If Leavine Family Racing move on from Matt DiBenedetto after only one year, he would be a perfect fit for Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. Not much is known about the plans for either of these two teams next year, but with Silly Season starting to heat up, we should know more about both in the near future.



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