LAS VEGAS, Nev — It may still be early in the 2019 season, but it is already been an up-and-down year for Leavine Family Racing’s Matt DiBenedetto, who used the word “encouraging” to describe the first two races.
“Encouraging, would be a good word because Daytona we lead the most laps in the 500 and Atlanta we had good speed, we probably had a top-15 car but got into incident on pit road, got hit and got some damage, had to pit under green, and that kind of ruined our day,” DiBenedetto told POPULAR SPEED. “But, as far as the speed and the people we have and the work ethic, and the partnership with Toyota, that’s like really really really good. I think we’ll have some fast racecars and good runs all year.”
For the 27-year-old, the arrival of the new year has brought upon a transition. After two seasons with Go Fas Racing, he moved to LFR’s No. 95, which subsequently brought him back to the Toyota camp as his new team moved to the manufacture after being previously associated with Chevrolet.
“It’s been a lot of change, but I kind of feel at home being back in the Toyota camp,” DiBenedetto said. “They have always treated me so good, and I’m really appreciative for that. So, it feels great, just being back here and they treat me as important as any of their other drivers and are really dedicated to making this team a growing and winning organization. The support you get from them is pretty awesome.”
The change also gifted the California-native a new crew chief in Mike Wheeler, someone who is no stranger to success in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, winning five races with Denny Hamlin, which included a Daytona 500 in 2016.
“What I like is that he will make me a better driver because he expects a lot of me and of everybody,” DiBenedetto said. “He’s experienced and he knows what it takes to win, so he knows what I need to do, he knows the homework I need to do, he puts me to work and makes me study and be as prepared as I possibly can be to drive the car. We get along very well because we are both very passionate and he cares a lot and those are the type of people you want to be surrounded by.”
Looking ahead at the upcoming season, many say that this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be the first real test of the new rules package. DiBenedetto noted that restarts and pit stops will be very important, and looking outside Vegas at the west coast swing, the three races will provide three different challenges.
“I think they are all going to be so different, that’s the cool part,” DiBenedetto said. “Here (Las Vegas Motor Speedway) we tested, and I learned that track position and restarts are going to be important and, I think Phoenix will be different because we will have horsepower and we’ll be going really fast around there. Then Fontana is completely different, I think that will actually be a pretty good race because, you get clean air in the corners because you can run seven different lanes, that will be a fun one.”
Heading into this weekend, DiBenedetto will look to finish the job after two races with positive starts and negative endings.
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