We’re eight races into the 2016 Sprint Cup season, and we’ve already got a top nominee for the feel-good story of the year. With BK Racing driver Matt DiBenedetto earning a sixth-place finish for a career-high Sprint Cup run following the Food City 500 at Bristol, fans and competitors all around the garage sang the 24-year-old driver’s praises.
Race winner Carl Edwards was quick to acknowledge DiBenedetto’s accomplishment, saying, “They finished sixth? Man, that’s unbelievable. That’s probably tougher than what we did. That’s a real testament to them.”
Denny Hamlin, who finished 20th, came down pit road as well to congratulate DiBenedetto while the driver of the No. 83 was giving an emotional interview for the television crews, echoing Rich Bickle’s tearful interview after he finished fourth at Martinsville in 1998.
DiBenedetto’s interview just goes to show what’s great about NASCAR. While it may seem like the front is always the same guys day in and day out, and it may seem like old hat for drivers and fans, every so often one of the little guys who will work just as hard as his crew will have a good day. DiBenedetto’s emotions show that he is a guy that’s just happy to be a part of the big show.
Look at his record in the Sprint Cup Series. Five lead lap finishes in 33 starts with a previous career-best finish of 18th (Talladega, Spring 2015). He didn’t start his rookie campaign in 2015 until the fourth race of the season at Phoenix, following two DNQs. Driving for BK Racing, DiBenedetto has piloted some severely underpowered Toyotas and has managed to keep his equipment in once piece, which is no small feat in the Sprint Cup Series.
He was once a development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing in the XFINITY Series. These days that usually means surefire success, but in 2010, due to sponsorship woes, that left DiBenedetto without a ride. So for the better part of four years (until he signed with BK Racing), he was going from ride to ride just to be a part of the sport.
Still, despite all that, despite all the struggles he’s faced with the No. 83 team in the 33 starts he has made with the team, he has managed to hang on, and now has something to show for his struggles behind the wheel in NASCAR. Taking into consideration the struggles he’s faced while trying to reach the upper echelons of NASCAR, the emotions that he showed in his post-race interview were real.
DiBenedetto is a talented young driver who has a lot of years left on the clock, and with the improvements made by BK Racing in the off-season, he’s in a position where an underfunded race team could be built around him to at least be a consistent race team. That may take time, but he’s shown that he is more than willing to stick around for awhile.