Categories
News

Wood Bros, GoFas Will Have 2017 Charters; NASCAR’s System Causing Odd Moves in Silly Season

On Thursday, GoFAS Racing announced Matt DiBenedetto would be its full-time driver in the No. 32 in 2017 and that Wood Brothers Racing is leasing its Charter for the No. 21 with Ryan Blaney.

However, GoFAS will not enter the upcoming season without a Charter; the single-car team is leasing one from Richard Petty Motorsports.

Since RPM’s Brian Scott announced his retirement from NASCAR racing, plans for the No. 44 have not been made.

It appears RPM will shrink to a single-car effort next year with Aric Almirola returning in the No. 43. If the organization wants to run a second car, that entry will have to qualify for points races based on speed.

The ongoing NASCAR Silly Season has been a busy one, and with the influence of the 10-month-old Charter system, business has taken a few strange twists.

HScott Motorsports is leaving NASCAR’s top division. The team had two Charters in 2016 — one of which was leased and returned to Premium Motorsports and then sold to Furniture Row Racing for its new No. 77, which rookie Erik Jones will drive. The other was purchased by Premium for 2017.

The two drivers that raced for HSM in 2016 are not without a ride for 2017, though. Clint Bowyer is taking over Tony Stewart‘s No. 14 at Stewart-Haas Racing and Michael Annett will pilot the No. 5 for JR Motorsports in the XFINITY Series.

Roush Fenway Racing leased its No. 16 Charter to JTG Daugherty Racing for a second full-time entry. Greg Biffle announced he would not return to RFR for 2017 and Chris Buescher, who is under contract with RFR, will leave the Ford team Front Row Motorsports and pilot the No. 37 Chevrolet — a second JTG car.

Both Biffle and FRM’s No. 34, which Buescher drove to victory in a rain-shortened Pocono race and made the Chase, have an unknown status right now regarding 2017.

Leavine Family Racing leased Circle Sport Racing’s Charter for the No. 95 in 2016 and it has been since returned to CSR. Supposedly, CSR will run the No. 33 again full-time, but there has been nothing announced. There’s been speculation Casey Mears could take over the ride after Germain Racing announced he would not return despite him and sponsor Geico signing a contract extension through 2018. The No. 13 will be run by rookie Ty Dillon, and Geico will return next year.

LFR bought Tommy Baldwin Racing’s Charter before the Homestead-Miami Speedway race in November and the No. 95 will use it to guarantee a spot in every race next year. TBR will not run a full-time schedule in 2017 and Regan Smith, who drove the team’s No. 7 in 2016, has not announced plans for the upcoming season.

When the Charter system was created in February, it was awarded to 36 teams that attempted every race since the start of 2013. The Wood Brothers team didn’t qualify for a Charter as it ran a part-time schedule from 2009-2015 and it sparked a bit of outrage among fans since it is NASCAR’s oldest and one of the most winningest teams.

Now, the famed No. 21 will be guaranteed into all 36 points events with Blaney embarking on his sophomore season in the car. And DiBenedetto will have the same security as his new team leased RPM’s No. 44 Charter.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
News

DiBenedetto to Join Go FAS Racing in 2017

Go FAS Racing announced today that Matt DiBenedetto will drive the No. 32 Ford Fusion in all 36 NASCAR Premier Series events during the 2017 season.

DiBenedetto comes to the team after spending the last two seasons behind the wheel of BK Racing’s No.83 Toyota. In 68 career starts at NASCAR’s top level, he has a careerbest finish of sixth coming at Bristol Motor Speedway this past April.

“I am very excited to join Go Fas Racing for the 2017 season. We have a great group of people that I am very excited to work with this season. I am thankful for the opportunity and I look forward to representing the team and sponsors to the best of my ability,” said DiBenedetto.

2017 will be the first year since the team’s inception in 2014 that they will only have to focus on one driver for all 36 races instead of having multiple drivers behind the wheel.

“Mason and I couldn’t be happier to have Matt joining us here at GFR. This will be our first season in the Premier Series with one driver running the complete season for us. We believe Matt’s driving ability and a fleet of newer race equipment purchased this off season will elevate our program to new levels in 2017,” said Team Owner Archie St.Hilaire.

Can-Am/Kappa, Keen Parts, Visone RV, Really Cheap Floors and more familiar faces will yet again don the No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford. GFR also is pleased to announce there will be new additions to its 2017 sponsorship lineup that will be released at a later date.

EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

DiBenedetto Forced to Sit Out Texas Cup Race

Following a crash in the XFINITY Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, Matt DiBenedetto will be forced to sit out Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series event.

Driving the No. 14 entry for TriStar Motorsports in the XFINITY race, DiBenedetto made heavy contact with the outside wall on Lap 134 of the 200 lap event. After being checked over, DiBenedetto was not cleared to drive by physicians and has entered NASCAR’s concussion protocol.

BK Racing announced Jeffrey Earnhardt would substitute for DiBenedetto on Sunday. Earnhardt ran for the organization at Talladega Superspeedway a couple weeks ago. This weekend will mark Earnhardt’s 20th Sprint Cup Series start of the season.

DiBenedetto had qualified the No. 83 Toyota for BK Racing in 33rd for the Sprint Cup Series race.

DiBenedetto becomes the third NASCAR driver to enter concussion protocol this year, joining Dale Earnhardt Jr. and John Wes Townley.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

In NASCAR’s Chase, Everyone Has A Part to Play

NASCAR is unique among American sports leagues, especially when it comes to the playoffs. Whether it be Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NHL or the NBA, once the end of the regular season comes, it is only those few teams who have clinched a playoff berth that continue. For the rest, they can pack up the gear and unpack the golf clubs as the off-season has begun.

Last weekend in Richmond, the Sprint Cup regular season came to a close, and the sixteen drivers who will compete for a championship were determined. (The XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series Chases will be finalized this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.) In other sports, those teams would be the only ones to compete for the remainder of the season. Not so in NASCAR.

Through the final races of 2016, every team that can qualify for a race will continue to compete and could still have an impact. While logic might suggest those capable of winning an individual race might have already done so through the course of the regular season or at least been consistent enough to make it into the Chase on points, there will be those in the field ready to play spoiler and could have a huge impact on the Chase.

Take, for example, Ryan Blaney. The driver of the No21 Wood Brothers Ford may not have been able to point his way into the Chase, but it wouldn’t be impossible to envision Blaney becoming another rookie to grab their first Cup win before season’s end. With a win in the playoffs allowing for Chase drivers to advance to the next round, a Blaney win could be a huge barrier for someone struggling in points who needs a win to keep their championship hopes alive.

At the same time, a non-Chase driver could end up having an adverse impact on the Chase. Imagine a scenario in which Matt DiBenedetto blows a tire at Dover and begins a wreck that includes Kyle Busch. Without meaning to, DiBenedetto could end Busch’s championship defense in the first round.

Of course, that’s not to say drivers couldn’t or wouldn’t intentionally derail another’s Chase chances. Last year, Matt Kenseth wrecked Joey Logano at Martinsville, ending Logano’s promising season and his chance at a championship. The incident stemmed from an earlier collision between the two drivers at Kansas, when Logano had spun Kenseth, leading to the latter’s eventual Chase elimination.

Before the first Chase race of 2016, there are already tempers flaring. Kenseth and Logano’s teammate, Brad Keselowski are already at odds, and no one can forget the physical fight between Cole Custer and John Hunter Nemechek in the truck series. There’s little doubt that Custer may have something to say about Nemechek’s chances in the Chase.

Welcome to the Chase 2016, where every driver in the field has a part to play.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Fan Support Continues to Grow For Matt DiBenedetto

DOVER, Del. – The Sprint All-Star Race is a week away, and social media is pushing hard for Matt DiBenedetto to be an additional entry.

A sixth place finish last month at Bristol Motor Speedway in the Food City 500 has skyrocketed the attention around the BK Racing driver. From quiet and unassuming, DiBenedetto is not only more recognized at the racetrack, but fans are more tuned in to his team’s performance.

Now the attention turns to the $1 million exhibition race on May 21 that sees DiBenedetto among the top five in the Sprint Fan Vote.

“At first, it was just people after Bristol voting and I saw it pop up on my Twitter feed, and a lot of people were sharing it,” DiBenedetto told POPULAR SPEED. “I was like, man, that’s cool. We started to push a little bit for it and the more that we pushed for it the more it blew up way more than we expected.

“Then folks on Reddit were really behind me as well a bunch of fans on social media everywhere. I couldn’t believe it. Just people all over really pulling for us. I think they could tell I have a passion for the sport.”

It’s all been a bit overwhelming for the 24-year-old from California.

“The first part of the season everything was fairly quiet for us, but we were showing speed and having some good solid runs and were faster than we were last year. Then all of a sudden at Bristol we definitely showed a lot of speed and had a great run and the support after that ramped up by a thousand percent,” DiBenedetto said.

“It went from being at the racetrack signing a couple autographs here and there to a ton of support, which is cool because everyone shared the emotion with us and looked at it as a cool underdog story.”

One DiBenedetto is embracing. Should he get voted into the All-Star Race, he has pledged to change the name above the No. 83 Cosmo Motors Toyota for the remainder of the season. It will go from Matt DiBenedetto to “Matt DiBurrito,” which he jokes has been around for a while and the team even refers to him as.

“Heck, if all these people are behind me and pushing for the votes, if we get voted in I felt like we should so something cool for them,” he said. “I rolled with the idea. Maybe we’ll even put a burrito picture beside it; I’m not opposed to it.”

Additionally, DiBenedetto will reward his supporters by running a Reddit paint scheme during a race later in the season. He recently posted a design on his Twitter page that was submitted by a fan after running it by the team, which gave their immediate approval.

As for the rest of the season, DiBenedetto is trying not hang his hat on Bristol. There is still work to be done at BKR as he sits 31st in points entering the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.

“I’ve learned you can be at the highest of highs and still lose it all in no time, so you have to really stay focused. I push every day to make sure I can stay around this garage for a long time; I want to have a career in the Sprint Cup Series, which is hard to do. It’s hard to stick around. I really want to be here for a long time.

“(Bristol) was definitely a great day but after that my focus was immediately – I was excited that whole week – but the next day I was focused on the next week. You’ve always got to stay focused and keep on pushing, and you have to have as many of those kind of runs as possible throughout the year. If you want to stick around a long time and keep getting better opportunities, you really have to stand out a lot, and I’m trying to make sure I’m doing everything my power to do the best I can.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Drivers Enjoying Addition of Heat Races

NASCAR and XFINITY mixed things up with the Dash 4 Cash format this season, and so far it’s a success. Following the first two races in the D4C, several drivers have praised the change.

“Honestly, for me it felt more like a Truck race,” said Erik Jones, who won at Bristol in the first D4C event. “It was pretty close to a Truck race distance which did create some urgency, in general, just having to stay up front. We only had two pit stops, and we’ll only have two pit stops here at Richmond again, and that’s a pretty narrow window to make yourself better if you’re not where you want to be.”

Time-trial qualifying determined which heat drivers ran– odd qualifiers in the first heat, even qualifiers in the second. Each heat was 35 laps, with the finishing order determining the starting line-up for the main 140-lap event. The top two finishers in each heat compete for the prize money.

“I think it’s cool, and it brings you back to the older days,” Matt DiBenedetto said. “Reminds you of some dirt racing and ties in a lot of things together. The Dash 4 Cash and all of it makes it more exciting to watch, and more exciting as a driver and more intense. And I think we saw at Bristol that the racing was great in the XFINITY Series and both series.”

For some teams, the format worked in their favor, as they made adjustments between their heat and the main event after a sit-down conversation.

If the heats lacked action, blame it on drivers being cautious, as they tried to improve their starting positions without wrecking in the process.

“There’s definitely times where you can’t make some of the moves you try to do in the race, because you can’t wreck,” Jones said. “You’re not trying to wreck for sure. It’s just like any other heat race, Saturday night. I can think back to five or six years ago racing at my home track in Michigan running heat races. You can’t tear your stuff up, but you still want to go out and get the best finish you can, and start as high as you can in the main event.”

The heat format offers the fans something different in the XFINITY Series, possibly causing more eyes to tune in.

“I think it will just keep getting better as teams get more comfortable with heat racing and all that,” Ryan Blaney said. “You saw last week where the feature couldn’t have ended any more exciting than it did with Eric (Jones) winning the race and the Dash for Cash. That was exciting for me to watch — and the fans, too. I think as teams get more comfortable with heat racing it will get better and better.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Development Journalists

Personality Meets Performance

Typically unassuming, Matt DiBenedetto stepped out of his character and into another last Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

By dressing up like Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top during driver introductions, DiBenedetto showed a side of his personality that few had seen on a such a public platform.

A day that began well, ended even better.

Capturing his first career top-10 finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he told POPULAR SPEED Sunday at Bristol was a day he would remember for the rest of his life.

But the 25-year-old driver quickly shifted the focus from himself, to those who helped him achieve the milestone day.

“What meant the most to me was what it meant to the team,” DiBenedetto said. “They put in countless hours and work late nights and bust their tail for ultimately me to be behind the wheel of that racecar and give me this incredible life.  That was the best part, seeing their faces and their hard work paying off for a run like that for our team as a whole.”

His sixth-place finish comes as the peak to what has already been a successful season for DiBenedetto and BK Racing. That includes a top-20 qualifying effort at Daytona and a top-20 finish at Phoenix.

“When you’re a small team, you’re going to have struggles; it’s going to be hit or miss sometimes. But, when were able to get our car handling well and right, were able to run fairly competitive,” DiBenedetto stated.

He credited much of the success to the moves BK Racing has made and the hard work they’ve been putting in.

“There’s a lot of things that they did over the offseason that helped this year. They had shrunk down to two teams, bought newer racecars from Michael Waltrip Racing, and hired some good folks,” DiBenedetto said. “There’s a lot of things combined but man, they work so hard because they wanted to be able to perform better.”

By starting the Food City 500 in the 30th position, DiBenedetto faced a significant obstacle to begin the day.

“That’s one of our struggles of being a small team; we have limited resources and technology where the bigger teams can unload and be pretty close to on the money,” DiBenedetto said. “We have to kind of estimate a little bit more and dial it in by the ‘seat of our pants type feel’ if you will. We worked on the car all weekend and by race time we got it to be where it was close, and then we worked on it throughout the race, and it kept getting better and better.”

Patience was the key for the 24-year-old, as he made his way through the competition.

“Before I knew it, we were up easily in the top 20, and we just kept picking them off, and right there at the end we were in the top 10 and racing guys right up front. Pretty crazy how it all turned out with my team doing a good job, no mistakes on pit road, and they made good adjustments. It was a complete team effort. It was not all driver by all means, those guys did a good job all weekend.”

Fast-forward to six laps to go, DiBenedetto found himself in a preferable spot, eighth place, and in the preferred lane.

“At the end of the race, I was just so, focused,” said DiBenedetto. “It’s the end of the day, no give and take anymore; it’s just take, so everyone is racing hard. So when it came down to the end of the day, I was just really focused, making sure I didn’t miss my line, didn’t slip up, didn’t get in the wall, nothing like that.”

He wanted the final laps to be perfect, and that’s exactly what they were. DiBenedetto had a great restart, catapulting him from eighth to sixth, as he passed 2014 champion, Kevin Harvick in the process.

“I knew we were running close to the front,” he said. “I didn’t know where we were running to cross the line to finish the race, and then when they told me I was sixth; I was honestly speechless.”

To put it simply, Sunday was a huge day for not only DiBenedetto, but his entire BK Racing team. In addition to working with new teammate David Ragan, DiBenedetto says it’s become easier during his second full year in Sprint Cup, as he becomes more accustomed to the schedule.

“Everything is a whole lot more comfortable, everything is a lot more slowed down, and I’m able to focus on honing my skills and being able to work on the little things this year to make sure I am perfect behind the wheel,” he said.

In typical NASCAR fashion, DiBenedetto had to put the last weekend in his rearview mirror.

“As much as we would like to keep celebrating, it’s time to keep focus and work on the next one and try to stay prepared and make the most of the rest of the year,” he said.

Still, it was a day that will be forever ingrained in the lives of DiBenedetto and his family. He showed up as a Sharp Dressed Man and left with a strong result that is sure to breed confidence and momentum.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.