Matt DiBenedetto says he got the phone call from Leavine Family Racing on Tuesday telling him he wouldn’t be back in the No. 95 Toyota next season.
“It was recent, and I wanted to get it out there quick; I’ve always been honest with all my fans and friends and everybody, and I’m not good hiding things,” DiBenedetto said Thursday afternoon on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
A statement from LFR said the team will be going “in another direction” next season.
DiBenedetto has been a rumor mill topic for months, with speculation that he could possibly be replaced in the car either by Erik Jones or Christopher Bell. Bell is undoubtedly headed to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next season and Joe Gibbs needs to find a place for him. Since Leavine has a technical alliance with Gibbs, that pulled DiBenedetto into the conversation
“The rumors can be distracting, and unfortunately came out to be true,” said DiBenedetto. “Yeah, it’s distracting but at the same time, there’s different ways I can choose to look to at it all. The sport’s been tough on me, but I’ve been lucky, and the way I choose to look at is that I’m appreciative and without Bob and Sharon Leavine and Matt Diliberto, our owners, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do exactly what I wanted to and knew I could, which is get with a team where I could run up front, get these top five and top 10s, and hopefully a win.”
DiBenedetto said he doesn’t want anyone to be upset or hard on those at Leavine, Toyota, or Joe Gibbs Racing.
“Because without every single one of them I wouldn’t even be here today,” he said. “It’s just a tough sport where unfortunately talent and passion and hard work isn’t quite everything. It’s gotten me this far, and I think it’ll keep getting me to where I want to go, which is to win.
“We’re really close already, but there’s just a lot of elements that go into this sport, and it’s extremely expensive and at the end of the day, they spent a lot of money out of their pocket for me to be the one that drove that race car, so you can never be upset with someone who invested a ton of money into you being the driver, even if it’s just for the year. Obviously I want to do it much longer.”
This has been a career year for DiBenedetto. A fourth at Sonoma and a fifth-place in New Hampshire were his first career top-five finishes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. His four top-10 finishes are not only the most he’s earned in one season, but tie the top-10 finishes he’d earned in his first four years in the series combined.
DiBenedetto started the year on a high note by surprising many when he led the most laps in the Daytona 500 (49), only to have the day end in disappointment when he was wrecked late. His performance this year has also been an improvement for Leavine Family Racing by setting a single-season mark in top-10 finishes and laps led. DiBenedetto is in a position to earn a career-best finish in the point standings as he’s 23rd going into Bristol, which would also be a career-best for LFR.
Given that it has only been a few days, DiBenedetto didn’t have anything to share about his future, but he said he’s already begun reaching out, even to fellow drivers.
“Heck, even Kurt Busch put in a word for me to get to LFR,” he said. “Not a lot of people know that or would expect that he went out of his way to help and call me. The predicament I’m in is, I’ve always taken steps forward my whole life up to this date. I can’t afford to take a step backward, because that can just be the kiss of death in your career, so I just want to keep taking steps forward.
“That’s why in my statement I was so adamant about saying winning, winning, and winning in the Cup Series because that’s my goal, and that’s what I want to do this year… I came here to win. I worked my whole life to get to this point and win and not to make a paycheck.”