NASCAR Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: Will Matt DiBenedetto Ever Get a Shot With a Big Cup Team?

The seemingly impossible task of building up a top-tier NASCAR team in the sport’s premier division is exactly what it is — virtually impossible.

When new owners arise, their expectations are high. Their resources, however, are limited and usually by their bank accounts. In modern-day NASCAR, when everything is determined by a checkbook and engineering capabilities, owners willing to enter the sport have to invest millions of dollars right off the bat if they want to have a glimmer of hope at finishing in the top 30 in a race.

Over time, though, some owners have managed to maintain a steady cash flow to turn their programs from back-markers to mid-packers. The difference isn’t massive, maybe a few tenths of a second at best. But it’s the time and energy put into the effort that will pay off in the long haul should a management team be creative enough.

That’s what is happening for Go Fas Racing, which is arguably the most improved team in NASCAR this year, largely thanks to driver Matt DiBenedetto. As the team looks to take the next step of running consistently in the top 20, his talent is doubted by few and it’s time for the organization to step up.

Have a question for NASCAR Mailbox? Tweet me at @JosephNASCAR or shoot me an email at Joseph.Wolkin@gmail.com! 

Q: What’s next for Kyle Larson now that he’s eliminated from the playoffs? – Mary N. Charlotte

A: Fair or not, a blown engine destroyed Larson’s shot at competing for the title. His breakout season was destroyed in a matter of moments all thanks to his first motor failure since joining Chip Ganassi Racing in 2014.

After a stellar first year with CGR, he was predicted to have an outstanding 2015 season. That didn’t happen, missing the playoffs and failing to secure that elusive first triumph.

When he finally took home a checkered flag last August at Michigan International Speedway in NASCAR’s premier division, it was the first of a predicted many victories for the Drive 4 Diversity graduate. The prophecy was indeed true.

Larson has taken the Cup Series by storm in 2017, having an amazing battle with Martin Truex Jr. for the championship. With four wins on the year, he would have been a lock for Homestead had it not been for that blown motor this past weekend at Kansas Speedway.

While he may dwell in the what-ifs, this is his reality.

The No. 42 team will not be competing for a championship in 2017. Instead, the focus moves to next season, when CGR can work on making the organization’s fleet even faster.

But repeating such an impressive season will be quite the challenge. Through 32 races, Larson has an average finish of 11.3, only behind Truex’s 10.3. His season is highlighted by not only his wins but by eight runner-up finishes.

What if just one or two of those second-place results was indeed a victory? Those bonus points might have changed the team’s strategy during the first two races during the Round of 12, in which he finished 10th and 13th, respectively.

Instead of dwelling on the negatives, though, Larson should be thrilled for what lies ahead. His No. 42 team should be a favorite for the title once again.

They have a chance to play the role of spoiler for the remainder of the playoffs, and in doing so, they can at least help a fellow Chevrolet team take home the championship before attempting to do it all over again in 2018.

Q: Will Matt DiBenedetto ever get a shot with a big Cup team? – William S. De Pere, Wisconsin 

A: While it would be amazing for DiBenedetto to get a ride with a top Cup program, his future is with Go Fas Racing. After signing an extension with the No. 32 team, crew chief Gene Nead and he are trying to build the organization from the ground up.

With an entire off-season to prepare, there is no reason this organization can’t make the gains it needs to in order to be a top-20 team in 2018. It might seem far-fetched considering DiBenedetto’s average finish is 26.7 this year, but the results are with a team that earned only four top 25s in all of 2016, three of which were with Bobby Labonte and one with Boris Said.

The gains in performance have been steady for the No. 32 squad, with nine top 25s through 32 races, including a pair of top 10s, the first in team history.

DiBenedetto made a name for himself in NASCAR thanks to Joe Gibbs Racing in the K&N Pro Series East before climbing the ladder to the XFINITY Series. After a solid 14th-place finish in his 2009 debut at Memphis Motorsports Park, he earned the chance to run six races for JGR the following season.

But with only a pair of top 10s to slap onto his resume, he lost his ride. He ran the entire 2011 Pro Series East season, earning a victory and finishing fourth in the series standings.

For much of the next two years, he sat on the sidelines, awaiting the next call. The calls that came were start-and-park rides, just enough to get the job done until Ron Devine picked up the phone.

When a part-time gig for BK Racing became a full-time one, DiBenedetto was finally getting something he deserved: A shot at the show. While it wasn’t with Joe Gibbs Racing, it was certainly one that he appreciated.

As DiBenedetto continues to enjoy the time he is spending with Go Fas Racing, his goals aren’t necessarily to move up with another team.

“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,” he said. “It’s just being prepared to fire off the season and just keep getting better all year. We can definitely be better next year.”

The goal might have been Joe Gibbs Racing a few years ago. But now that he has found a home with Go Fas Racing, there is no reason he shouldn’t work to build that organization into the next JGR.

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