Matt DiBenedetto is known as one of NASCAR’s top characters in the garage area. It’s all fun and games for “Guido” until he straps into his No. 32 Ford.
DiBenedetto, 26, is having a career-year in the sport’s premier division. Competing with the underfunded Go Fas Racing, he has a pair of top 10s on the year, including an eighth-place finish in the Brickyard 400. After re-signing with the organization, he is already looking forward to next year.
Frontstretch spoke with DiBenedetto, discussing his 2017 performance thus far, along with social media, the future and more.
Joseph Wolkin, Frontstretch.com: Your performance is steadily improving as the year rolls on. How would you evaluate your season thus far?
Matt DiBenedetto: We had a little rough stretch of four to five races where we just went through some growing pains and kinks we had to work out. Other than that, we keep getting better every week as a team. We have really good people. We have 15 employees and we’re able to compete with people that have a significantly higher budget than us. It shows what you can do when you have good people around you.
Wolkin: Do you feel like you surprise yourself when you have strong runs like you did at Indianapolis?
DiBenedetto: I know we can do it as a team. I know how good our group of people are. Obviously, an eighth-place finish at Indy is exceeding our expectations. A top 20 is a great day for us. We just keep getting better and more organized as the year rolls on. We just need to keep getting caught up and run better.
Wolkin: You have been bringing on several new partners this year. What’s it been like to show new companies what NASCAR is like?
DiBenedetto: It’s been awesome to see our hard work so we can present opportunities to these different companies. It’s perfect for a small team that runs really competitively. It works out because we’re at a price point that fits more companies. If we can take in different sponsors and give them exposure using the amazing fan base we have and using some creativity at a price they can afford, it’s pretty cool.
Wolkin: You had multiple local firms on the car at Loudon. What makes something like that different?
DiBenedetto: It’s neat when you can get some local companies on the car. It gives it an old school type of feeling. It’s just good to get the opportunity to show off different companies. They might not be able to do it with Joe Gibbs Racing or something like that, but they can do it with our team because we operate on a much smaller budget.
Wolkin: This team has struggled a lot over the past few years. What is the biggest difference for Go Fas Racing in 2017?
DiBenedetto: You’re only as good as the people around you is what I always say. It’s been everybody down to every last person on the team. I’ve learned this year how important every job is. It’s definitely not just me. I drive 110 percent out of the car and I get the most out of it. Off the track, I do a lot of things social media wise. But I have a crew chief that’s been around longer than I’ve been alive. It’s like a family. Everyone multi-tasks and jumps in. We have a true family atmosphere, and everybody busts their tail. That’s where our performance comes into play, even though we have a lot less to work with.
Wolkin: With social media, you’ve been having a blast on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. How important is social media for you?
DiBenedetto: It’s a great way to connect with fans and have fun with them. I just try to be myself. In the sport, there are a lot of voids to fill with guys like Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – the guys with personality and are great guys – leaving. I’m just trying to be myself. It’s what the sport needs.
Wolkin: Do you feel like you’re doing a good job with that?
DiBenedetto: I’d like to think so. It’s funny because everyone talks about how great of a job we do on social media. It’s not just me, but it’s Ryan [Ellis, PR]. Ryan and I work together on a lot of stuff. I don’t really do anything special other than be myself. It’s funny how things kind of take-off on social media. It’s just a day in the life of me. It’s like when my wife left and I was looking around and went, ‘this place is a mess.’ I took a video of how stuff wasn’t working and I was getting frustrated with my house.
Wolkin: Back on the racetrack, you guys are exceeding your expectations. What does it mean to you that this team is starting to see success?
DiBenedetto: The best part for me is I’m not a very selfish guy. You see how hard your guys are working, and you want it for them. Archie St. Hilaire, our team owner, and his son, Mason, really want to be successful. They invest so much in this, and it’s a small family team. I enjoy it the most for all of them.
Wolkin: Archie started this team as a part-time XFINITY Series effort and has now grown it to what it has become today. What’s your relationship like with him?
DiBenedetto: He’s a great guy. He’s hilarious to listen to, being from up north and he talks fast. Archie and I get along great. He’s the most honest, genuine guy. Everyone in the garage is a very tight group, so everyone has their reputation for this or that. I’ve been with the team since the off-season and I’ve never heard one negative comment from anyone in the entire garage area about Archie or Mason. That’s the kind of reputation they have. I couldn’t say enough good about the two of them because they’re just good, honest people. Their word is better than any contract I’ve ever signed. Their word means everything. I trust them, and they really want what’s best for me and the team.
Wolkin: They’ve done their best to improve the team, especially securing a charter. How is your partnership with the other Ford teams?
DiBenedetto: We’re basically on our own. We have a good engine program through Roush-Yates Engines, and that helps our team a lot. That’s a good foundation for us. As far as working with the other Ford teams, we’re on our own. Because we operate on a small budget, we don’t have simulations and all that like the other teams have. We just kind of wing it and do our best with the experienced people we have.
Wolkin: How do you feel you can grow this No. 32 team next year?
DiBenedetto: We’ve been talking about that lately, trying to figure out what we can do over the off-season to get better. I think we have all that time over the off-season to get prepared. Starting this year, we weren’t really prepared, which is nobody’s fault because we just didn’t have enough time. Next year, I feel like if we fire off with cars prepared and ready to go for races, we’re going to work on our stuff and make it nicer. It’s just being prepared to fire off the season and just keep getting better all year. We can definitely be better next year.
Wolkin: Is this the happiest you’ve been in racing?
DiBenedetto: Yeah, it is. This is the most fun I’ve ever had when I get to the track. I enjoy the people. I enjoy working for good people. I don’t have a complaint in the world. I’ve had to work so hard to be here, so I’m just appreciative to be here in general.