DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Matt DiBenedetto’s eyes may be on a second NASCAR Cup Series season with Wood Brothers Racing, but he wants to branch out into other motorsports disciplines as well.
Part of that planned diversity effort involves racing a dirt midget during the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Okla., something that DiBenedetto said has said for some time is “on the bucket list.”
That box may get checked off as soon as next January for DiBenedetto, who told reporters during his Daytona 500 Media Week availability Monday that his goal is to enter the 36th edition of the Chili Bowl.
“I’m working on it pretty much as we speak,” said DiBenedetto of trying to nail down a Chili Bowl ride. “I’ve been in conversations already about maybe running a couple of (midget) races that work out with our schedule this year, so that I can get maybe two races under my belt or something like that, just to get a little seat time in a midget. Knowing that our schedule is becoming more diverse, it’s making me look into different things because our schedule has seven road courses on it and we have a dirt race now.
“I’m looking at it like, ‘Oh, man. I think I need to start exploring different opportunities to continue to hone my skills.’ I always want to be the best I can possibly be at what I’m doing, so I’m gonna try to get a couple of races in,” DiBenedetto continued. “There might be more info on that pretty soon, hopefully. I’m working on it. I don’t know the details yet, but I’m looking to work on that and hopefully get a couple races in and then run the Chili Bowl. I’ve always wanted to.”
A number of NASCAR drivers have competed at the Chili Bowl in recent years, including reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott, three-time event winner Christopher Bell, two-time defending Chili Bowl victor Kyle Larson, incoming Cup rookie Chase Briscoe and Xfinity Series drivers Landon Cassill and Ryan Ellis.
One of the catalysts for DiBenedetto’s planned foray into grassroots dirt racing was the addition of a dirt race for the NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, but the 29-year-old began his racing career in dirt karting and has always wanted to return to his roots if the situation was right.
“I grew up dirt racing. Larson has told me to do it and work on it, so I’m like, ‘All right, now I think is the time. We have a dirt race on the schedule; I need to get this right because I want to keep honing my skills and get better at everything,’” DiBenedetto noted. “Then we’ve got a lot of road courses on the schedule, so I’m looking at ways to try and get more track time on road courses in different kinds of cars, as well … things like that.
“All in all, it’s pretty exciting that the schedule is becoming so cool and diverse, and it opens up opportunities for guys like me to do some different things that are pretty cool and different.”
Aside from his Chili Bowl aspirations, DiBenedetto is chasing his first Cup Series victory this season, as well as the milestone 100th victory for Wood Brothers Racing.
DiBenedetto is looking to build on a season that saw him earn three top-five and 11 top-10 finishes, as well as finish a career-high 13th in points in his sixth full season of Cup Series competition.
However, he’s also auditioning for a job next season, knowing that Austin Cindric will replace him behind the wheel of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford Mustang when the 2022 Daytona 500 rolls around.
It’s a process DiBenedetto has been through multiple times, meaning he’s used to the uncertainty that comes with not having an extended contract.
“My whole career has had an expiration date. I’ve thought it was over 1,000 times, so it don’t even phase me. I’m pretty mentally tough at this point,” he noted. “There haven’t been any talks. I haven’t even thought about 2022, just because my whole focus is on 2021 and driving the No. 21 car. … It’s ’21, so that’s been 100 percent my focus, just knowing that all we need to do is go out there and kick ass and perform and the future will take care of itself.
“I haven’t had any talks with anybody moving forward, but I’m still under contract with the Wood Brothers and with Team Penske as well. I think it will all just play out later in the season when it comes to July or August — somewhere in that area.”
DiBenedetto will hit the track for the 63rd Daytona 500, the season-opening race for the NASCAR Cup Series, on Feb. 14 at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
The 36th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals are scheduled for Jan. 10-15, 2022.