Matt DiBenedetto is a likable guy. Drivers like him. His fans adore him. He’s always got a smile on his face. That likability factor made the news all the more tougher to hear last week when it was announced that he was out of a NASCAR Cup Series ride with the Wood Brothers in 2022.
According to Steve Letarte and Chad Knaus, two respected voices in NASCAR circles, DiBenedetto only has himself to blame. He has failed to produce any wins, and both former crew chiefs called him out for his performance on the latest episode of NASCAR’s Backseat Drivers.
Matt DiBenedetto out at Wood Brothers in 2022
Last week, after a ninth-place finish in Atlanta, news broke that Matt DiBenedetto was out of the Wood Brothers No. 21 car in 2022 with Harrison Burton announced as his replacement. Not surprisingly, DiBenedetto had an emotional reaction to the news.
“I’m going to be super honest. I’m not going to try and hide how I feel and what I feel,” DiBenedetto said in a nine-minute video posted on Facebook. “You guys know what you see is what you get. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. Found out yesterday. When I found out, I tried to be like OK, been through this before. How do I handle this? I know God has a plan for me. There’s a greater plan.
“But you know what? I didn’t really sleep last night, and I thought about it and it’s OK to have human emotion, and I’m not going to lie to you; it’s OK to be pissed off, angry and bitter and all of the above. It just is what it is. We’re humans. We’re not perfect.”
In addition to discussing how his career has been filled with heartbreaks and setbacks, including losing other rides in the past, he also acknowledged how fortunate he was and how he was still trying to bring the Wood Brothers their 100th career Cup Series win.
Steve Letarte and Chad Knaus call out Matt DiBenedetto for his lack of wins
While there’s no reason to doubt Matt DiBenedetto and his sincerity in wanting to win the 100th Cup trophy for the famed team, there’s a huge mountain of evidence against it happening before he leaves. During his seven Cup seasons, in which five of those were admittedly with underfunded teams, DiBenedetto has the same number of Cup Series wins as Matt Damon.
When asked about his situation on the latest episode of NASCAR’s Backseat Drivers, both Steve Letarte and Chad Knaus pointed to DiBenedetto’s inability to win a race.
“I love Matty D. He’s a nice guy, but the problem that Matt has is this is professional sports. This isn’t intramural football,” Letarte said. “And I’ll be the cold guy that says it that winners get hired. And he’s had a chance to win a couple of races and he’s yet to come through… It’s tough. He doesn’t have a lot of sponsors behind him. I can’t think of a brand that’s just backing Matty D. I’m sure some seats will open up in the garage area, but I don’t see it being a seat near as good as the 21 car.”
Letarte, who is in his seventh season on NBC’s NASCAR coverage, suggested that DiBenedetto consider taking a similar approach to John Hunter Nemechek and dropping down to a lower series. Knaus, who won seven Cup titles as Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief, hadn’t considered Letarte’s idea of moving down, but thought it might work.
“Kurt Busch did the exact same thing,” Knaus pointed out. “Sometimes, you just have to take a step back to take a step forward. But that No. 21 car for him was a really good opportunity. Unfortunately for Matt, he just didn’t perform at the level that he needed to.”
Where could he end up in 2022?
While driving with either the Trucks or Xfinity Series could be an option, DiBenedetto made it clear last week that he didn’t want to do that. His other options are limited with most of the seats secured for next season.
Most think the aforementioned Busch will likely land with 23XI Racing. Richard Petty Motorsports hasn’t picked up the option on Erik Jones’ contract so that might be a possibility. In addition, with GMS Racing and Kaulig Racing moving up to Cup, DiBenedetto still has potential options in those cars, but they might not be full-time.
DiBenedetto’s future is unclear. One thing that is clear is wherever he ends up racing, he’ll still be one of the most likable guys in the garage.