Just days before the Bristol Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Leavine Family Racing driver Matt DiBendetto received the crushing news that he would not be driving for the team next season.
Rather than let the disappointment get to him, it seemed just the inspiration DiBendetto needed to produce a brilliant drive, passing Erik Jones for the lead eight laps after a restart on Lap 388.
It was a lead that he would hold for 93 laps until misfortune intervened. With Denny Hamlin surging past Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott to move into second behind DiBenedetto, the Leavine Family Racing driver came up to lap Ryan Newman. But contact between the cars hampered his Toyota’s handling and allowed Hamlin to pass with just 11 laps remaining.
It was clearly a bitter pill for DiBendetto to swallow, but he can be proud of his efforts that will doubt serve as a timely reminder of his talents for other teams looking for a quality drive next season.
"I'm here to win."
An emotional @mattdracing speaks after finishing second at Bristol. pic.twitter.com/semJNMviuj
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) August 18, 2019
“I wanted to win so bad for these guys, for this team, for them giving me this opportunity,” DiBenedetto is quoted on nascar.com after crossing the line. “I’m just thankful that they gave me this opportunity. But, man, I’m sad. We got tight after the deal with Newman, when he came up into us. All of a sudden it got really tight after that.
“Congrats to Denny. He raced hard. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid. To be racing door to door with him at Bristol, in front of a great group of fans. … I’ll try not to get emotional, but it’s been a tough week. I just want to stick around and keep doing this for a long time to come. I love it. I love the opportunity. I’m not done yet.
“Something will come open. It’s going to happen. I’m here to win. Something’s going to come open. I’m proud of these guys. Thankful for my wife and fans for sticking with me. It’s been a tough journey, a hard week. Cool for this team.”
For his part, race winner Hamlin was magnanimous in victory, even apologising for taking his second Bristol and the 35th career victory. It was also his fourth win of the season.
“I just want to say sorry to Matt DiBenedetto and (his crew chief) Mike Wheeler,” said Hamlin. “I hate it. I know a win would mean a lot to that team, but I’ve got to give 110% to my whole team. Just, sorry.”
This interaction between @MattDRacing and @DennyHamlin is so touching. pic.twitter.com/E3i0E3gaE7
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) August 18, 2019