Matt DiBenedetto kept his nose clean and drove smoothly in Sunday’s Toyota Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway for an emotional career-best fourth-place finish. A misty-eyed DiBenedetto had reason to be proud of his effort at the 2.52-mile road course, but instead of tooting his own horn he was thankful for his opportunity.
“Dude this is a team effort,” DiBenedetto explained. “I am just so lucky to be doing this. I know I say this every time I get interviewed but my path to get here has been so out of the ordinary and old school. I am so thankful. I can’t tell you how many people took a chance on me to have this opportunity.
“My sponsor Procore, Toyota, TRD, Joe Gibbs Racing, Dumont Jets all of these people. Bob, Sharon Leavine and Michael my crew chief Wheels, he was crew chiefing Denny the past few years all of those people had to say yes and approve me getting in this car and take the chance on me. I am so — I don’t know how to explain how thankful I am. That was so fun. My home state.”
This is DiBenedtto’s fifth-career top-10 finish and it’s his first top-five finish in 156 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts.
Pressure has mounted through the first 16 races of 2019 for the 27-year old driver of the No. 95 Toyota Camry for Leavine Family Racing. The driver came out of the gates with an impressive performance in the season-opening Daytona 500, which ultimately led to being swept up in a huge pileup. Aside from a 12th-place finish at Bristol, DiBenedetto hasn’t been in position to sniff a top-10 finish since.
As poor finish led way to poor finish, rumors started swirling that he was merely keeping the seat warm for Christopher Bell or Erik Jones — who remains unsigned with Joe Gibbs Racing — for 2020. DiBenedetto made a statement on Sunday, and he knows if he gets the job done the rest of the season, he will have nothing to worry about as far as a ride is concerned.
“I’ve learned to become really really mentally tough over the years,” said DiBenedetto after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a really tough journey. My whole career — I mean every single year of my life and career — at a point where we folded up as a family and sold all of our stuff and quit.”
DiBenedetto continued by saying, “So, it’s been a tough season. We’ve had speed, just no luck. Some of these things, and I’ve always had to perform and I don’t let it get to me. I say it to my wife because she worries all the time. She worries for me. I tell her, it’s hard to stay calm but if I go out there and I perform, the rest will take care of itself.”
DiBenedetto, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and David Ragan were running a special paint schemes in honor of Darrell Waltrip who was in the broadcasting booth for the final time on Sunday. Waltrip is retiring after 19 seasons at FOX Sports. DiBenedetto finished the highest of the Waltrip-inspired schemes. Ragan finished 20th and Stenhouse finished 21st.