Ford Performance NASCAR: Matt DiBenedetto Bristol Media Availability Transcript

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
NASCAR Cup Series (NCS)
Friday, May 29, 2020
Bristol Media Availability

Matt DiBenedetto, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford Mustang, is currently 11th in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings heading into this weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway. He was part of NASCAR’s media availability session this morning and spoke about returning to the half-mile short track.

MATT DIBENEDETTO, No. 21 Motorcraft Ford Mustang – CAN YOU WALK THROUGH THE LAST RACE AT BRISTOL WHERE YOU WERE SO CLOSE TO WINNING AND THE FANS REALLY EMBRACED YOU AFTERWARDS? “That was probably one of the biggest days for my entire career honestly, so that was a moment I’ll never forget, having all the support from the fans. That was a crazy moment and I really didn’t even know how to feel because it was probably one of the most defeating and toughest days of my life, but also one of the most rewarding from the support we had from the fans and everybody. It was a tough week on us, so there was a lot of not really feeling how to feel, but ultimately it led to being a big factor in me getting this opportunity to drive the 21 car this year, so it was a big day and everything was meant to be.”

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HAVE YOU WATCHED THAT RACE FROM LAST YEAR YET? WILL YOU? “I actually still to this day have not watched the end of that race. It’s still that painful that I’ve never watched. I can’t remember what lap, but I cut it off and I can’t even watch it. It would be too much, but as far as what I’m gonna try to learn for this Sunday, I’m actually gonna go back and probably watch mostly 2018 stuff because, thank goodness, we have the low downforce back for Bristol, which will make the racing way, way better, so I’m excited about that. So for note taking and learning I’ll probably go back and watch 2018 on video.”

HAVE YOU NOTICED A DIFFERENCE AS HOW YOUR CAR HANDLES WHEN YOU JUST GET IN AND GO WITHOUT PRACTICE? “The thing is I think these teams are so good nowadays and there’s so much technology, simulation and notes from last year, things like that, so, honestly, it’s amazing how the cars fire off. The heights and everything are everything are usually pretty close, just because they have so much information to work with and simulation and things like that. Really, it’s not too big of a deal. Actually, it’s even better than I thought just firing straight off in the race. The comp yellow and things like that help so you have a little time to adjust on your car and work on it, so they’ve done a good job with that. We’ve been able to fire off and get the cars close and dialed in throughout the race. The comp yellow, things like that helps. Of course, having practice and getting your car dialed in makes it easier, but for the time we’re in I’m glad we’re just able to get racing and make this way work.”

HOW MUCH DO YOU RELY ON YOUR PENSKE TEAMMATES AS RESOURCES? “I’m lucky to have Brad, Ryan and Joey as great teammates with our alliance with Team Penske, so that’s been good, especially being able to lean on them and my first year with this team is a big help. Yeah, I have been able to ask them a fair amount of questions and, obviously, it’s neat working with all those guys. They do help, I think, for gathering info, but, really, for the most part, my team is good and I’m able to just hop in the race car and try to do my job and the car is usually fairly close. We have some things to work on as a team as far as our racing execution. We’re still kind of getting to know each other and working on some little things, so we have some bugs to work out to try to finish these races more where we start them and be a little bit better, but that’s all part of growing as a team.”

HAS YOUR WORKOUT ROUTINE CHANGED DURING THE PANDEMIC? “I’ve actually lost a few pounds. I’ve slimmed down a little. It’s allowed me to really hone in on eating clean and for no reason I decided to kind of lean down a little bit. As far as my workout stuff, I’m fortunate to have plenty of home gym equipment. It’s not totally ideal, so I can’t do everything, but I have a squat rack that I actually share with one of our friends, but I have a squat rack, some barbells, plenty of weights, dumbbells, and a bench and everything. I’ve had to improvise a little bit, but I’d say my fitness and training is just as good as it has ever been.”

WHAT GOES THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOU GET READY TO START A RACE AT BRISTOL? “I would say Bristol would probably be more of the nerve-racking ones of firing off with no practice. I think at the mile-and-a-halves and some of these places, Darlington is a little treacherous but not too bad. I’d say the mile-and-a-halves are not too bad. Bristol, there’s just no margin for error. It’s really, really fast. It’s an insanely fast short track. You’re on edge already even when you have your car dialed in, so I’d say that one will be a little bit more nerve-racking for the drivers. It’ll be fine. It’ll work out fine, for sure, but you just really are out and out praying that your car is dialed in right because it’s very sensitive. If you’re off just a little bit at Bristol, it can affect you worse than these tracks where it’s a big race track – a mile-and-a-half – and you don’t have to worry about going a lap down if you miss it or things like that, so this one will be a little bit more treacherous.”

HOW DO YOU THINK THE PACE HAS BEEN AT THE START OF THESE RACES? “All of these races we’ve fired off and it’s like we haven’t missed a beat. It’s as if we did our full practice and qualifying and everything, honestly. You can’t even tell the difference from the driver’s seat. I would say the only difference is you maybe see people battling like, ‘Oh man, that guy looks real loose,’ and they have to make bigger adjustments. But after pit stops, everyone is pretty dialed in, so I think Bristol will just be a little bit more tough as far as you can pay a lot more penalty quick if you’re off.”

HOW MUCH HAVE YOU MISSED THE WEST COAST AND NOT BEING ABLE TO COME THIS WAY SINCE THE SHUTDOWN? “That’s a good question. First off, I’m thankful that we’re racing. There are things we’re going to have to give up or deal with, but I’d say my saddest part of all this – which people are battling much bigger issues than this – but it is the fact that we’re not getting to race at Sonoma. That’s where I grew up not too far from there. My family lives less than two hours from there and that’s a race where all of the family and everybody usually gets to come to and I’ll go see my family while I’m out there, maybe fly out there early and make a little trip out of it. Then they all come to that, and that’s one of my favorite race tracks to go to all year because road racing is my favorite thing to do, so that stinks and I’m gonna miss that aspect. Going out west is so much fun and the fans, I think because we don’t get to go out there a whole ton, we have a really dedicated group of fans out that way, which makes it even more special. So I’m going to miss that for sure, but I can’t wait to get back out there and get west.”

DO YOU THINK IT’S BEEN EASIER OR HARDER TO FOLLOW THE NEW EVENT PROTOCOLS? “I’ve actually been nothing but thoroughly impressed with how smooth everything has gone and how to a T every single person that you see in the garage is following every guideline because we’re all so on the same page and just so appreciative to be racing and willing to do whatever we have to do. So, honestly, it’s gone 10 times smoother than I could have possibly imagined and I’m just really, really proud of the effort of everyone. It’s amazing to see that big of a group of people all come together like family and be willing to do whatever, no complaining, just everyone happy to be following every guideline to be putting on a show for the fans.”

HOW DO YOU THINK THE MIDWEEK RACES HAVE GONE SO FAR? “I love them. They’re really good. I think it’s fun as far as it gives people something great to watch midweek – on a Wednesday night or something – so that’s nice. The race length is about perfect. I think it fits in that window so it’s not putting people’s bedtimes at crazy hours as long as it doesn’t rain. So I love the Wednesday night shows. It’s a lot of fun. I hope we can do more of those in the future.”

DO YOU FEEL THIS OPPORTUNITY HAS LENT ITSELF TO DOING MORE OF THIS ON A REGULAR BASIS? “Yeah, I think so. I try and look at the positives of all situations and everything that is in our control and trying to peel the positives out of this tough situation that would be one main one is that we are testing some things and some theories. Midweek races, different race lengths, all of these things packed into a really short time that we didn’t expect to do, but I think it’s gonna come out as a major positive because we’re seeing a perfect race length. A lot of people are able to tune in for a midweek show and I think we can really grasp a lot of eyes by doing something different like this and it’s a lot of fun – perfect for midweek shows and changing things up and gaining a lot of interest.”

YOU HAVE A LITTLE CUSHION IN TERMS OF THE PLAYOFF BUBBLE. DO YOU LOOK AT THAT AT ALL OR IS IT STILL TO EARLY IN THE SEASON? “No, I do look at that weekly. That’s a good question. We pay very close attention to that, I do at least myself, even though it’s early in the season because it’s just so crucial. Points are crucial. Stage points are insanely crucial. Thank goodness we grabbed some stage points yesterday in the first stage, finishing third. I watch very closely. We do have a little cushion right now, but we as a team have to get a lot better, in my opinion. We have a lot of speed. We have great people. We’re just learning each other and we’ve got to close out these races a little better. We’ve got, for sure, the car speed and the people to do it, so it’s nice that we’re still sitting there in points when, honestly, we’re a little bit disappointed with some of our end results of these races because we know that we can do a lot better and we will do better moving forward, so I feel good about that part of it.”

HOW WOULD YOU GAUGE THE SEASON SO FAR? “I’m excited about how good of a team we have and resources and teammates and you name it – car speed is there and great and we’ve shown if we hit it or we’re close we can be up front at any of these races. I’d say Darlington is the only one we really struggled at for speed, but every other track we’ve had fast race cars and great people working on them, so that part I feel good about. I’d say we’re not in our rhythm yet, but we will be. I have no doubt about that, but we’re still learning each other and making little mistakes figuring out each other’s communication. Greg Erwin and I are figuring out working together and we still have a lot of room for improvement, which is a good thing because I know we can run up front and can contend for wins quite often. We have a lot of room for improvement on the execution side as far as putting our race together perfect from start to finish. I think we’ve had speed and have been up front at times. Yesterday, we finished third in that first stage, stuff like that, but we’ve really got to stay on top of it from start to finish and work on a little bit of execution, which we will definitely be able to do.”

WHAT’S THE FEELING FROM YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY ABOUT NOT BEING ABLE TO RACE OUT WEST? “I was actually just talking with my sister yesterday and my niece and nephews and we were talking about that, about them just being sad like me. I hate we’re not gonna get to see a race this year and that’s usually the normal tradition for me to go out there and all. That is a tough one. We talk about it quite often because a lot of people out there are really dedicated race fans and look forward to those races in particular and Sonoma in particular, so I have a ton of people that usually go to that race, so we’ve communicated a lot. It stinks for sure, but I’m just thankful we’re back racing and we have to do a lot of improvising for sure, but I’ll definitely miss my family out there.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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