Matt DiBenedetto will know his fate for the 2021 season this upcoming week. The Wood Brothers hold the option on whether he returns to the seat of the No. 21 Ford next year and the wording in his current contract states that a decision is to be known before the end of the month.
The only way he doesn’t return to this seat is if Team Penske needs it to house Austin Cindric there next season. They’re full with all three current drivers coming back next season. So, does Cindric go back to his seat in NXS next year or does he move up and take DiBenedetto’s seat in the way Ryan Blaney started off in Cup in the exact same ride?
“You know, I haven’t really — basically we haven’t had a lot of conversations, it’s been more they know the deadline is October 1st, and there’s a lot of parties involved,” DiBenedetto said of his contractsituation right now. “I know the Woods love me and I love driving for them, so there’s just a lot of people and moving parts involved, so it’s not only the Woods, it’s our alliance as a team with Team Penske and obviously the support that we get from Ford and our sponsors and Menard’s.
“Like we have Motorcraft, Quick Lane and then Menard’s, as you notice obviously we had Menard’s and Duracell this weekend. We always have a vendor partner on the car so those typically would be mapped out pretty far in advance for the following year and things like that, so there’s just a lot of moving parts, so I think they’re trying to work everything out, and I’ll hopefully know my situation for next year.
“I would hope and expect to be back with them. I haven’t pursued anything else if that answers your question better.
“So that’s literally everything that I know, and I’ve tried to be not a pain in the butt and let them try and sort out everything to the best of their ability because I know they’re really working hard, especially with all the variables and everything that 2020 has presented to them on the business side.”
DiBenedetto, made the decision tough on them on Sunday. He finished runner-up in the South Point 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his second straight second place result on the 1.5-mile track. He was runner-up back in February too.
“We got on a little streak of just some rougher luck, but tonight is just one example of the speed and strength that we have as a team, and with Menard’s, Duracell, all these folks.”
It was a race that DiBenedetto says shows the pace is there to contend. He just had an unlucky first round to where too many unforced errors and bad luck took him out early.
“Yeah, you know, I think all good runs are great, and this year has been great crazy, but we know we have a lot of strengths as a team and a lot to continue to improve on and build on,” DiBenedettocontinued. “I keep saying we’re just barely — I feel like we’ve just barely scratched the surface, we’re just barely getting started. I know we can win races and contend for sure.
“As far as this, to answer your question about my situation, I think 2020 has delayed a lot of things that would have been figured out and set in stone for next year for 2021 a lot sooner. 2020 has thrown a lot of variables in, so I think there’s a lot of moving parts. I’m kind of speculating but I’ll find out this coming week. I think it’s just a lot of logistics.
“I feel like the Wood Brothers are an amazing family and you can tell they ooze confidence in me, and that’s such an amazing feeling, and same with Team Penske and our alliance with them. I can feel that everyone has confidence in me and our team and knows we’re only going to continue to get much better. So I don’t feel much on that side. I think more just a lot of logistics and things that they’re really trying to work out to get everything hopefully set for next year because I want to drive for this team for a long time to come. I love driving for the Woods.”
He also notes how he could also be strong in future races too.
“Yeah, I mean, I think we have a great shot at all the remaining tracks for the rest of the year, so I was talking with Kelli Stavast earlier, she was in our hauler and we were chatting for a bit about — she was asking some questions about future races where we think we have a good shot, and yeah, obviously Talladega our cars are always fast,” he said. “I’ve become a better plate racer. I’ve always needed to improve. The Roval, I’ve loved road racing, so that’s always fun, and that one is kind of a wild one typically, so great shot for us.
“But at the mile-and-a-halfs we still were fast at, so we’ve got Kansas, Texas we were really fast at, we were running fourth and got wiped out earlier this year, and then Martinsville we were flying, had a solid — our car was super fast, Phoenix. So really looking forward to the rest of the year. I think we have some incredible shots to keep on contending up front.”
In terms of the present, DiBenedetto said that once he lost the lead toBusch, it was over from there.
“That hurt us and it made it tough for the rest of the race. I know my teammate Ryan Blaney tried to push me on that last one, so I appreciate that, but we had a car if it was out in clean air, we definitely could have won the thing. I’m just proud that we had a shot at it.”