All the focus entering this event was, and still is but rightfully so, on the 16 men that locked in their opportunity to go after a championship. It’s no longer about who missed the cut, or came so close, but about who made the field and now has an opportunity to advance into the next round.
But, that truthfully was not the biggest story entering Las Vegas. Instead, it became all about a young man who only knows one career, and was racing for his livelihood.
In all honesty, we all probably would never hear the name Matt DiBenedetto unless it was for his solid finishes over the last several years, and his passionate interviews that he gave afterwards explaining how each week he’s racing for his job. When he found out he wasn’t coming back to his current operation, everyone suddenly felt horrible, deflated, and hurting. Here’s a guy that simply doesn’t care who he races for, but just wants to be at the wheel. That race at Bristol, where he came SO CLOSE, was the moment he needed.
Sure, he wanted to win, and even Denny Hamlin was feeling so down about what happened, that he first mentioned his name long before any sponsors in victory.
Here’s a guy who came out and said for one race last year his team didn’t have enough funding to make the drive, and asked fans to send money to have their name on the car. Hamlin himself even donated, knowing he’s raced hard with him but he’s also been raced clean. That Saturday night at the bull ring, it came full circle because Hamlin beat him to the finish, but also saw that DiBenedetto deserved a ride, and everyone on the NBC broadcast was agreeing with that statement.
When he came to victory lane, while Hamlin was being interviewed, the microphone got sat down, and all you witnessed was two friends enjoying the moment, and seeing the encouragement of what competition meant.
Now, DiBenedetto has that opportunity. With Paul Menard deciding to be more of a family man than a family man on the road, a seat opened up. And it was Menard who immediately when the Wood Brothers asked who should field the car that said three simple words.
“Go get Matt.”
That is exactly what they did, and for at least one season, the guy who simply wants to race now has a strong team, strong alliances, and a true opportunity to showcase what he can do at the wheel. I would not put a victory or two past the Wood Brothers next season, that’s how confident I am in this young man.
Now, the focus shifts from what is happening next year, to what we have occurring now. It’s playoff time for NASCAR’s top tier series, and ultimately what is going to be the final Monster Energy Cup, since there is no announced title sponsor for next season. I’m already predicting that in the next three events, we will see automatic advances into the Round of 12 in all three races, and yes that’s including the Roval here in a few weeks.
As for Vegas, I’m not much of a gambler, but if anything is like the race here a season ago, many of those drivers with the green spoiler and splitter guard will be in for a rough weekend.
Hopefully they don’t put all their chips in on the first hand and instead play their cards right, maybe with a bluff here and there.