NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Underdog House: Matt DiBenedetto’s Fan-Friendly Dedication

Think Small

A few weeks back, this column touched on the small team drivers and how, in general, they’re fairly accessible to their fans.  They show it often; a few weeks ago, Landon Cassill engaged in a lengthy scheme with his Twitter followers where he’d give them various items if they got a certain number or retweets on a post. A lot of fans got involved, and Cassill had to give away a lot of stuff, which he did with a smile.

Another driver who has recently stood out with his dedication to his fans is Go FAS Racing driver Matt DiBenedetto. The 25-year-old California native has embraced his fans, and has gotten a lot of votes in the last two All-Star fan votes. The laid-back DiBenedetto doesn’t even mind if fans butcher his name; when someone landed on “DiBurrito,” he put that over the door on his racecar for the Monster Energy Open on All-Star weekend.

He’s reached out to fans recently in ways that most other drivers don’t.  When a fan posted that he had garage passes for this week’s race at Dover and mentioned he’d like a chance to meet the driver, this was DiBenedetto’s response:

He invited the fan to stop by his hauler for a visit. No matter how big or small a race team is, they’re busy during a race weekend, and that includes drivers. Nobody should fault them if they don’t have time to meet every request.  DiBenedetto’s “hey, just stop by” response should be commended, because it’s something that most drivers just don’t do.

And it doesn’t stop there.  This weekend in Charlotte, another fan camping at the track posted a picture of his cornhole game set that’s decorated like DiBenedetto’s Cosmo Motors car.

DiBenedetto accepted the invitation, taking former driver and current PR man Ryan Ellis as a teammate.

DiBenedetto and Ellis kept their word, dropping by the campsite for a few games, which they lost.

They didn’t fare any better in the next two games.

DiBenedetto’s interactions with fans haven’t gone unnoticed. He’ll interact with as many as he can, even those who criticize him and his team.. After the Coca-Cola 600, where he crashed out due to a cut tire, DiBenedetto went online and broadcast live on Facebook with followers. He understands the importance of relating to fans on a level that most drivers don’t, and it’s earning him more fans. More fans make sponsors take notice, and sponsors make racecars go faster.  Going above and beyond makes sense, but most drivers still don’t go to the lengths DiBenedetto has…because he’s having fun doing it.  And if fans’ reactions to him on his social media are any indication, it’s having a very positive impact at a time where drivers are less accessible than in the past.  He gets it…and it could take him a very long way in the sport. A driver who wants to make his mark by going out of his way for race fans?  Everyone in the sport should be paying attention.

Top of the Class: Charlotte I

AJ Allmendinger led the way for the small teams at Charlotte with his 18th-place result, followed closely by both Michael McDowell (19th) and teammate Chris Buescher (20th).  That it was JTG-Daugherty Racing and Leavine Family Racing at the top shouldn’t really come as a surprise; both teams are tied to Richard Childress Racing, the organization which won the race with Austin Dillon. McDowell in particular has been impressive this year with the improvement he’s shown.  It’s the first full season he’ll run with LFR; the team went full-time last year but McDowell shared the seat with Ty Dillon.

Passing Grades

Regan Smith filled in for the injured Aric Almirola again this week at Charlotte, and his result was decent, if not spectacular, with a 22nd-place run.  Richard Petty Motorsports hasn’t announced an interim driver beyond Sunday night, but Smith is a good bet to fill the seat until Almirola returns. David Ragan also had an okay night finishing 23rd, though three laps down.

Ryan Blaney was a favorite to contend for the win or at least a top finish, but a broken axle on a pit stop put an end to his hopes to complete the weekend sweep after winning the Xfinity Series race the day before.  The No. 21 team had the axle fixed within minutes and Blaney lost only five laps, but the damage was done, and he finished 24th.

600 miles of racing produces some extra attrition, and that benefitted some of the smaller teams who were able to avoid trouble. JJ Yeley, in the part-time Tommy Baldwin Racing car, finished a solid 26th. Gray Gaulding (27th), Landon Cassill (28th), Timmy Hill (29th) and Reed Sorenson (30th) all scored top-30 runs that saw them avoid trouble and complete the race.  That’s important for teams who don’t have fleets of cars at their disposal—a wrecked car for a small team can represent a fairly large percentage of their entire inventory.

Needs Improvement

Derrike Cope had some engine issues that cost him multiple laps, but he was able to finish, and that gave his team a few extra points as others weren’t so fortunate.  Cope finished 31st, 73 laps down, but he did finish.  Corey Lajoie was one of the unlucky ones, finishing 32nd after his engine expired in the closing laps.

2017 DAYTONA MCS Friday PRACTICE Bruce Nuttleman 8445
Corey Lajoie’s frustrating rookie season didn’t get much better at Charlotte after an engine failure in the Coca-Cola 600. (Photo: Bruce Nuttleman)

Cole Whitt looked strong early, which is beginning to be less of a surprise as the weeks tick on and the team continues to perform better than expected, but the race was too much for his engine this week; he finished 34th. Ty Dillon suffered a rear end failure and clocked in in 36th.  Germain Racing has struggled at Charlotte, and Dillon hadn’t been a contender before the mechanical issue, but it added insult to injury or a team that has seen improved results recently.

Matt DiBenedetto bowed out after a cut tire sent his No. 32 into the Turn 1 wall.  The team was unable to make repairs and had to settle for 37th place. Jeffrey Earnhardt brought up the rear of this group and the field Sunday night, finishing 40th following a rear end failure that collected Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski in the aftermath.  Earnhardt completed just 18 laps before the issue.

Newsworthy

Ross Chastain will make his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut this weekend at Dover, driving the No. 15 for Premium Motorsports.  Chastain brings longtime sponsor Florida Watermelon Growers on board with a “Protect your Melon” paint scheme aimed at seatbelt safety with the Delaware Office of highway Safety.

“This wasn’t something I was exactly searching for, but it presented itself and I’m ready,” Chastain said in a press release. “I want to thank Johnny Davis for putting it all together. He has helped me so much in this sport and now is helping me get into the Cup series, so I can’t thank him enough. My goal Sunday is to finish all the laps and minimize mistakes. Anything else will be a bonus. I’m not looking at it as an audition by any means, but it’s a chance for me to get some great experience.”

Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 will have a new look at Dover as well, sporting the colors of Eastern Carolina University for the first of a three-race deal.  The ECU Pirates’ colors will also adorn the No. 51 at Indianapolis and Richmond later this summer. Team owner Ware indicated that similar deals with other schools may follow.

“This is a marketing program that allows universities and their supporters the opportunity to experience the many hands-on sectors that a NASCAR team has to offer,” Ware said in a team release. “We couldn’t be happier having East Carolina University join us for three race and we are eager to unload this great looking race car at Dover. We are also equally enthusiastic at the response we have had from many other great universities from all over the country and look forward to promoting their brands at other races on the NASCAR schedule.”

Say anything

That’s one way to put it.

I can’t even begin to come up with a tagline to do this one justice…

And this will be brought up at Thanksgiving forever.

Well, they both have beards?

One of many drivers taking time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice

 

 

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