Matt DiBenedetto‘s Sunday (June 23) afternoon at Sonoma Raceway was one for the books.
The Grass Valley, Calif., native — only a couple hours drive away from Wine Country — earned his best career finish in the Toyota/Save Mart 350, crossing the finish line in fourth for Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 Toyota.
“I cannot explain how thankful and glad I am that we got a good run, a run we deserve,” DiBenedetto said post race following his first career top-five finish. “It’s been a tough year, we just haven’t gotten the results we deserve. We’ve had fast cars.
“I literally can’t explain how thankful I am to have this opportunity and how desperate I was to get a run like this. My team, how many people took a chance on me to drive this thing this year. I can’t explain to you how many people it took to all say yes, including my [Joe Gibbs Racing] teammates, all the drivers, everybody at Toyota, TRD, our sponsors Procore, Dumont Jets. Team owner, everybody on the team, Wheels [crew chief Mike Wheeler]. I’m telling you, it took every one of those people to say yes because my path to get here is pretty unorthodox. I haven’t had the funding to get here and I’ve had to do it the old school way.”
There’s nothing like your first career top-5 feeling, especially when you grew up just up the road from @racesonoma! Great finish today for @mattdracing and his No.95 @procoretech #ThanksDW Throwback Toyota Camry.
Fourth-place definitely feels like a win today!#poweredbyProcore pic.twitter.com/ZiuCevRcgE
— LeavineFamilyRacing (@LFR95) June 23, 2019
DiBenedetto made sure to thank former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver AJ Allmendinger for helping him for “hours on the phone” on his road course skill set. But DiBenedetto also pointed to the man who his No. 95 was paying homage to: Darrell Waltrip.
“This ones for him,” DiBenedetto said about Waltrip. “I wanted so bad to get a good run for him. He’s done so much for me and my career. Things people may not know about: he helped me out last year, always been so supportive, telling me to smile, just a great person and friend. I’m lucky to have gotten to know him.”
DiBenedetto’s paint scheme was a throwback bearing the same colors of the No. 95 Waltrip drove at the start of his Cup career.
“Getting my career-best finish in his throwback car, that’s something I’ll never forget,” DiBenedetto said.
After starting 19th, the No. 95 slowly and methodically worked his way to the front. As the 90-lapper went caution-free, he was left wondering whether or not he may have contended for the win if a restart occurred.
“We had good forward drive, had good strategy and we were on good tires,” he said. “I’m happy with our finish. We were driving through the field and that was so fun picking them off one at a time, guys that I have so much respect for, too. Kevin (Harvick), (Ryan) Newman, Denny (Hamlin) at the end, to be racing around them and passing them, I’ve learned a lot from them, so that was special.”
DiBenedetto’s family was in attendance, but his wife was back home in North Carolina. He said he’d make sure to watch the race back and smile while doing it.
“I’ve had this one circled,” he admitted of Sonoma. “Places like Bristol [Motor Speedway], Phoenix [ISM Raceway], here. I’ll be honest, this year’s been tough because the rules are so different, it makes it more difficult for a driver to make a difference at some of these bigger tracks. It’s a lot of car speed and track position. It’s been really tough, mentally challenging at some of these places. But here, you can just get on the wheel, show the strength of our team, execute. Those are the ones we circle off, and so glad I knew we could get a good run here.”
DiBenedetto will look to carry his momentum on to Chicagoland Speedway next weekend.