Friday, August 23, 2019

Where I Think Matty D Could Be in 2020

Could we see Matt DiBenedetto in a top Truck Series ride in 2020? (PixelatedSPEED composite photo)

PENSACOLA, Florida (August 23, 2019) -- Alright, Matt DiBenedetto has arrived… almost. After “betting on himself” by leaving GoFas Racing following the 2018 season, Matty D landed at Levine Family Racing for 2019 driving Toyotas in a partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing.

As everyone is well aware, the same JGR tie-in is the same source of DiBenedetto’s upcoming departure from LFR once the 2019 season concludes.

DiBenedetto made the news officially official last week that he indeed would not be returning to the 95 car next season. He then followed that announcement with a stellar performance at Bristol Motor Speedway.

After leading the most laps in Bristol, and coming within only a handful of a breakthrough win, the big question going into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series off weekend is, “Where will Matty D go in 2020?”

The most obvious answer is the Xfinity Series program at JGR. With Chirstopher Bell (presumably) moving on to Cup in Bob Levine’s 95 car, the 20 car… which has amassed five wins so far in 2019… opens up, providing an excellent opportunity for DiBenedetto.

The prevailing theory with this move is to have DiBenedetto run Xfinity in 2020, then possibly move back to Cup in a second LFR car in 2021… just in time for the debut of the new Gen 7 Cup car.

A less likely, yet still possible, solution comes with JGR partner iK9 and their Xtreme Concepts Racing team. Xtreme Concepts have run a handful of races with driver Jeffery Earnhardt in 2019, and that partnership has carried over to the Joe Gibbs Racing program. In mid-August, Earnhardt announced that he and iK9 had parted company, opening up opportunities for not only Xtreme Concepts scheduled events, but iK9 sponsored opportunities at JGR as well.

That combined partnership has led to Matty D driving in an iK9 sponsored car for JGR at Road Atlanta this coming weekend.

Throughout this entire ordeal, DiBenedetto has been nothing but gracious and thankful for all the opportunities that have been afforded to him, even amid the news of his release. Not burning those bridges could pay off in the long run if the 20 car is presented to him, or if Xtreme Concepts puts together a full time effort next season, possibly putting DiBenedetto in the seat.

Beyond the Xfinity Series, Matty D could find himself in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Here’s the logic.

The iconic 51 truck is locked up with up to five races for Kyle Busch himself. Beyond that, Chandler Smith is likely to return, and other “all-star” drivers could take turns at that seat.

KBM’s other two trucks, however, are questionable, and could become opportunities for DiBenedetto.

Between drivers Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland, it seems very likely that Gilliland’s seat is the most likely to be vacated in 2020. Gilliland’s performance in that truck has been lackluster when compared to the pedigree established by his predecessors.

Should Gilliland leave the 4 truck, it’s not a far stretch to fathom DiBenedetto running for a truck series championship in that ride.

However, should no doors at JGR or KBM open up, there is still yet another very strong spot for the driver from Grass Valley, California.

Matty D could fit well behind the wheel of the 54 DGR-Crossley truck.

Natalie Decker has by all accounts had a very disappointing rookie season. Her teammates have far exceeded her in performance, with Tyler Ankrum making the playoffs after a convincing win at Kentucky, while Anthony Alfredo has been consistent and solid all year long.

Decker’s cavalcade of circumstance mixed with inexperience and quite frankly lack of talent (mostly due, in my opinion, to being promoted to the truck series too soon) have resulted in a mirriad of unfavorable highlight reels that could see her out come next season.

Should Decker say so long, a very capable seat backed by a solid team with respectable equipment could be a strong fit for DiBenedetto.

In the end, one thing is certain, and that’s that nothing is certain. What seems like the most logical solutions often times finds a way to be completely muddled with the complexities of sponsorships, and the politics behind the scenes of the sport.

One thing is certain in the eyes of the NASCAR fan base, and that is that Matt Dibenedetto is a star that has won over the hearts of many. His Cinderella story is sure to have a fairy tale ending, it just may take a little more time to get there.

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