With Wood Brothers Racing’s NASCAR Cup Series plans set through the 2022 season, drivers Austin Cindric and Matt DiBenedetto have their immediate future set in stone. DiBenedetto will return to the No. 21 Ford for the Woods next season, with Cindric taking over the ride full time in 2022.
That leaves fan favorite DiBenedetto jobless for 2022, a position he’s very familiar with throughout his roller coaster Cup career.
Let’s take a look at some potential rides DiBenedetto could slot into for the 2022 season once his time in the No. 21 comes to an end.
Team Penske No. 2 Ford
Provided DiBenedetto has a more than serviceable season with (maybe) multiple wins, moving him over to the mothership to replace Brad Keselowski, who signed a one-year contract extension with the team for next year, is an extremely likely scenario.
The organization wouldn’t want to lose a driver who would theoretically be hitting his prime in a few years, and he would finally have the confidence, backing and security from a big team he’s longed for over the last decade or so.
But the key factors in this move becoming a reality are A) can he win, and B) does Keselowski want to leave? It appears the latter may be the case, given his reluctance to negotiate earlier this season. If so, it’s up to DiBenedetto to deliver.
Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet
Kurt Busch is walking on the 18th fairway to strike his ball for one of the final times in his career, aka he’s about done racing in the Cup Series. With the NextGen car set to debut in 2022 and Busch already dabbling in the FOX broadcast booth, an exit from the No. 1 car seems likely sooner rather than later.
Busch has longed for the opportunity to check things off his racing bucket list, like race at Le Mans, perhaps the 24 Hours of Daytona and multiple other sports car/NTT IndyCar Series events. We’ve seen him run the Indianapolis 500 before (and do well, at that), so staying with CGR in a different capacity, just not behind the wheel of the No. 1 car, would be of great importance to him.
We know team owner Chip Ganassi likes winners, so it would be extremely hypocritical of him to forgo offering DiBenedetto a ride for 2022 if he has won in Cup, right? Something tells me DiBenedetto will be sending smirk emojis to Ganassi after he wins a race and channeling his inner Earl Thomas, asking him to come get him.
Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 Ford
Aric Almirola, like Keselowski, signed a one-year extension with Stewart-Haas Racing through 2021, leaving the No. 10 open for 2022. If the Florida native has another strong season, making the playoffs and perhaps gracing victory lane, Smithfield would probably re-up. But if he doesn’t? Then Ford and Tony Stewart have a decision to make.
Or do they? Would the decision be made for them? DiBenedetto will have been in the blue oval fold for a couple years at this point and would fill a void in the No. 10. The only hurdle would be sponsorship (as it is with every ride, to be fair), given that both Danica Patrick and Almirola have brought an enormous amount of sponsorship to that car dating back almost a full decade.
Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 Ford
The Rocketman will be cleared for liftoff in 2022 (sorry about that terrible pun). Ryan Newman has made a name for himself in the sport and has defied the odds earlier this season at Daytona International Speedway, but his time at Roush Fenway Racing has been less than stellar.
At 42, he’s one of the oldest drivers in the Cup Series. But unlike Busch (42) and Kevin Harvick (44), he isn’t winning and advancing in the playoffs.
If team owner Jack Roush wants to keep two cars at the Cup level, DiBenedetto could be a prime candidate to fill it. Again, staying within the Ford family would theoretically avoid some hurdles of switching manufacturers yet again. But given Roush’s exodus from the Xfinity Series and dwindling of five to two full-time cars in Cup, downsizing isn’t out of the question, either.
Second Entry for Jordan/Hamlin Team
Oh yeah, now we’re talking. DiBenedetto famously finished second to Denny Hamlin last year at Bristol (where Hamlin openly praised him) and did so again, agonizingly close at that (before being relegated to the 20s for going below the yellow line) a couple weeks ago at Talladega Superspeedway.
Hell, Hamlin even sponsored him a few years back at Go FAS Racing.
There are still a plethora of things to flush out when it comes to this new team. From number, crew chief, manufacturer (all but officially Toyota) and other personnel, the new team will have plenty on its plate to get off the ground in 2021.
However, with the introduction of the NextGen car the following season, DiBenedetto presents a fresh slate of sorts to pair with Bubba Wallace, another charismatic personality on the Cup level. And with Hamlin clearly holding a lot of power in the day to day managing of the team, putting DiBenedetto in an additional seat would likely be something at the top of his list.
If things don’t materialize on track for DiBenedetto, some other options could present themselves. Although not preferred, if he wants to stay in the sport and potentially mount a comeback to Cup, here are a couple other alternatives:
- Taking a competitive ride in the Xfinity Series. Again, always sponsorship dependent, but winning multiple times and showing team owners that you are capable of getting trophies could pay dividends.
- If Team Penske is really feeling itself, starting a fourth team for DiBenedetto (although sans sponsorship, that could be tough).
- Filling in pretty much any other gap that exists. It’s hard to keep track of who will be where and who won’t be where for 2021, moreover 2022. But there’ll certainly be open seats at this time next year and if DiBenedetto has proven his worth and has nothing to show for it, somebody would be remiss to not pick him up.