Toyota Racing – Matt DiBenedetto
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Pocono Raceway – July 27, 2019
Leavine Family Racing driver Matt DiBenedetto was made available to the media in Pocono:
Matt DiBenedetto, No. 95 Toyota Express Maintenance Toyota Camry, Leavine Family Racing
Do you look back and laugh on how you got yourself this ride?
“Yeah, I can. It’s just a crazy story that people would barely believe if they heard it. It’s funny. It’s just crazy for me to think back a matter of a few years ago. It seems like so long ago just because of how far that I have been able to come in such a short time by doing stuff like that, basically, bugging people, bugging people like Bob Leavine (team owner, Leavine Family Racing).”
What has been the benefit of having the partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing?
“It’s been good. We get really good race cars. I have a good relationship with the fellow Toyota drivers which helps and it’s so nice to be able to pick their brain and get advice from champions and such good drivers. The support from Toyota is really good, and we are lucky to have the people on our team that we have. Guys like Wheels (Mike Wheeler, crew chief) and our engineers that are so good, because we don’t get all the information, like Furniture Row (Racing) did. We are not quite at that level yet, but we have such good people that it just shows that we can still perform and go out there and get those top-fives and top-10s.”
What is the biggest thing that one of the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers has said to you thus far?
“I’d say there has been just consistent advice I can get from them that helps as far as making sure we execute as far as getting our car right for the race. I have always been a smart racer and have been able to get the most out of my equipment. I can go out there and hustle the car and wheel it. But getting some of the finer points, like from Martin (Truex Jr.) and Kyle (Busch) and some of them on making sure that I can maximize what I have for the weekend in the car. That’s a big part of it, and their experience has been nice to lean on when I can.”
This whole underdog theme with this team continues even with your shop, which was the late Alan Kulwicki’s shop.
“Yeah, it’s cool! They talk about that a lot. A lot of history in our race shop, right behind the Charlotte speedway. It’s cool being called an underdog, or a growing, team. We’re still in the growing stages. It’s so much fun to go out there. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was really satisfying when we go out and pass powerhouse teams and go up and run in the top-five like we have the last few weeks. When we pass former champions and beat powerhouse teams, it’s pretty satisfying.”
Can you talk about your practice session?
“It was good. Our car felt pretty good on the PJ1. It’s out there. You kind of arc the corner and you’re in it a little bit getting into the tunnel turn. I would be curious if it comes into play. I think on restarts it will maybe give you something to lean on if you have to go two-wide. As far as our car, I think it can qualify and race in the top-10. It had good speed. We have been having some pretty good cars here lately; it’s been fun.”
You had a 16th place finish here last time in Pocono, your best Pocono result yet. Does that give you more confidence heading into this race?
“The good thing is, we finished 16th here last time, and I feel like from going out in practice, immediately, our car is significantly better than the last race. I don’t see why we don’t have a good shot at getting another one of those top-10’s or maybe top-fives. A big part of the race is execution of the track position. If we can do that, I think we have a better car than ever.”
Do you embrace the underdog role?
“Yeah, I do. I think it’s just cool the progression I have had and the path I have had to go about it. I keep climbing the ladder. I’ve always been known as a guy that can make a lot out of a little. Now that I’m with a team of a higher caliber, it’s fun to be known as the guy that can go out there and run in the top-five. It has been a fun progression. The cool part of that role is how people have embraced my story and path to get here.”
As you have stronger runs, do you put more pressure on yourself?
“I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself. I’m always hard on myself as far as making sure I’m as perfect as I can be for my team. I am big on that. I have been through so much in my career. It has made me a really, really mentally tough person, so not a lot gets to me. I just go out, perform, do my job and the rest of it takes care of itself.”
Going back to these tracks for a second time, do the goals of the team change?
“Yes, for sure. I think now that we are in a nice rhythm, and we’re all working together really well. We’re clicking off good finishes. We would like to keep a lot more of these consistent top-15s, get some more top-10s, top-fives. Who knows. If we keep positioning ourselves, where we are up in the top-five at the end of these races, things can fall your way. We are in a position to have a shot at winning, and we can sneak our way into the playoffs. I mean, that’s a big goal. If we keep positioning ourselves and having these good runs and racing up towards the front and executing like we have been doing, I think the expectations will be high for the rest of the year. I have high expectations, because we are getting ourselves in a nice rhythm. We’ve had some nice race cars. We’ve gotten all the bugs worked out. The terrible luck the first part of year; we just had some stuff out of our control. That’s been nice.”
Do you put a number on where you want to end up in the points?
“I think the first half of the season kind of hosed us as far as my expectations. We had some DNFs. Getting crashed at the end of Daytona 500; Phoenix, running good and we had a battery die. Just little stuff, and you dig yourself a hole and it’s hard to get out of. I think the focus is really just doing what we are doing and focusing on track position and focusing on setting ourselves up for the end of these races. Because that’s our best shot is to keep positioning ourselves where we are in the top-five and is something happens and we can get a win, that gives a bigger point jump than anything else. We are 24th in points. We’re a much better team than that.”