Matt DiBenedetto finished ninth at Atlanta Motor Speedway, giving him and his Wood Brothers Racing team their second straight top-10. DiBenedetto went into the season knowing this would be his final year behind the wheel of the #21 Ford in order to make room for Austin Cindric in 2022. He enters this week’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway just outside of the playoffs, in the 18th position.
He participated in a media availability on Tuesday and answered questions regarding his chances of making the playoffs, and the status of his 2022 plans.
ANY UPDATE ON 2022 PLANS YET? “No, sir. Nothing yet. Everyone knows I‘m a super open book, so what I‘m telling you is 100 percent everything that I know, which is I don‘t know anything more than any of you guys know. There have been no talks, no nothing. From the Team Penske side, they‘re usually pretty quiet. When I say pretty quiet, like very, very quiet. They like to keep it all kind of internal communication until they have a plan and then they communicate it to you. It‘s kind of a wait-and-see game. The cool part is that we are showing that we have made good efforts to make our 21 team better and that we‘re here to win, and the proof is in the pudding. We‘re now performing, running up front, leading laps. We‘ve turned this whole program around. It‘s clicking and all these things, so that does nothing but just help my situation moving forward, showing that we have the ability to go out there and contend for wins. We just have to continue to work on this 21 team to make us execute better and be better as a team and that‘s my job as a driver is to do those things, even sometimes when they‘re the hard and difficult talks you don‘t want to have, but that‘s my job and that‘s what they pay me for and hopefully I can continue to be in that camp. Hopefully, the Wood Brothers — I know we have a strong alliance with Team Penske — so obviously they‘re a big part of it, Ford, there are a lot of people that go into this decision-making process, but that‘s my family and I hope to stay here.”
IT SEEMS THE SUMMER MONTHS HAVE BEEN STRONG FOR YOU IN PAST SEASONS. IS IT SOMETHING ABOUT THE SCHEDULE OR JUST TRYING TO PROVE YOURSELF? “No, it‘s nothing about proving myself. That‘s every day I ever step foot in a race car, whether it‘s practice, qualifying, race, whether I‘ve been doing this for two years or 10 years. That never changes. It‘s funny you asked that question because I was laughing about that this week. I was like, ‘Man, it always seems like the second half of the season.‘ I‘ll give you the reason why. At the 95 team, the first half of the season we were really a new group of people working together. We were a small team. We were behind at the shop and really had a ton of work to do to get caught up, and you kind of hit that halfway point in the season and it was like, ‘All right, now we‘re actually working ahead on the race cars and proactive.‘ We all had a chance to click. We were getting things together and more organized at the shop and all these things that people don‘t see — that fans don‘t see — and when you do that, then you‘re working ahead and you‘re proactive and we‘re getting more out of the race cars and running top five, top 10 week in and week out. On the Wood Brothers side, it‘s kind of a similar situation in the sense that we‘ve had to have some of those hard talks. We had to make a crew chief change in the middle of the season. That‘s hard, but, then again, we‘re working through these things. It‘s hard work. Hard talks sometimes, and we do them. We make a big change in the middle of the year and it‘s no disrespect to anybody. Greg Erwin, I was super appreciative for him and what he‘s done for the Wood Brothers for years, but our team wasn‘t clicking and I felt it. To be honest with you, you guys know me, I say it the way it is, I didn‘t feel like we were gonna win. We were not a winning team. The dynamic wasn‘t there. We weren‘t meshing. It‘s all about relationships and it just wasn‘t there, and then we make this change, which is so hard. You empathize with people. I care about people, but, at the end of the day, I have to do my job and we all worked hard, talked and made this change to have Jonathan Hassler on the box and it‘s all about relationships, and then it‘s like, boom, we click and we‘re rocking and rolling and running up front, leading laps, top 10s, contending and we‘re just getting better and better, and we‘re just getting started together. To answer your question, that‘s the long version of it, but it‘s an important question for me to answer to everybody because I‘ve gotten that a lot. That‘s kind of where our performance gain is coming from right now.”
IS THERE ONE TRACK YOU HAVE THE BEST SHOT TO WIN AT TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS? “If I was circling one off in particular I would probably say New Hampshire is one I‘m looking forward to the most. Our car seems to be very strong at tracks like that. The low downforce races are awesome. I love them personally, more than the others, more than any of the others. They‘re a blast to drive, so it all kind of checks the boxes, but we also have improved our road course cars and we showed that at Road America, so we‘ve gotten better there and our superspeedways are great, so, really, we have excellent opportunities coming up, but if I‘m circling one that I‘m most excited about it‘s this weekend.”
— Ford Performance —