When the tears and the hugs on Bristol Motor Speedway’s pit road ceased, and the surprise celebration that awaited him at home ended — which included being sprayed with an excessive amount of silly string — what came next was to be expected, as Matt DiBenedetto became inundated with television and radio interviews throughout the week.
Although sleep and quality family time became limited, DiBenedetto, 24, enjoyed the spotlight that came with emerging as the feel-good story of the young NASCAR season. After all, it’s not often a driver emerges out of nowhere to finish sixth, and certainly not with a team in BK Racing that isn’t equipped to compete with the sport’s powerhouse organizations.
“A little bit less sleep than normal, I’ll tell you that,” DiBenedetto said Friday at Richmond International Raceway. “It’s been cool. It’s neat to get the media attention again for the team and for sponsor purposes.
“This week was definitely busy. I was on my phone pretty much every hour of the day with back-to-back radio interviews so it was cool. My wife may not have liked the lack of spending time together, but it was neat for all of us. She was like, ‘Man, you get to feel popular this week.'”
Before Bristol, DiBenedetto had never finished better than 18th, and though BK Racing, a small team in its fifth year of existence, had once finished sixth, that came with the caveat of occurring at Talladega Superspeedway where restrictor-plates and the draft act as an equalizer.
Yet while short tracks like Bristol are regarded as driver tracks, places where talent can trump advantages like horsepower and aerodynamics, big money teams still hold a distinct superiority.
Despite the hurdles they faced and their own limitations, DiBenedetto and BK Racing broke through at Bristol. The adversity and the significance was why DiBenedetto’s eyes welled with tears as he spoke with reporters afterward and why, even a week later, car owner Ron Devine still struggled to comprehend what his little team had accomplished.
“We’ve been out here for five years and that’s our best finish and it was real emotional,” Devine said Friday. “It was really special for us and I can’t say enough about him and about this race team. It really speaks to how hard these guys worked all winter putting the cars together and their commitment to make something happen.
“Now that we’ve finally had some success, it just felt great.”
The challenge ahead is to use Bristol as a building block. A tool to recruit additional sponsorship, which in turn provides a platform to cultivate resources and spur better performance. It’s a long-range plan that won’t transpire overnight, nor are there any assurances of it happening at all, but the hope is there and reassured by DiBenedetto finishing sixth.
“I think it just makes us excited to continue on and I think that at the end of the day you have to have a reason to believe,” Devine said. “It lifts the whole organization. Let me tell you something, at 6 [a.m.] Monday morning that parking lot was full. Those guys were excited to come back to work. From that perspective, you can’t say enough good things about it. Let’s hope we can back it up.”
The evolution of DiBenedetto and BK Racing in trying to be more than just a plucky underdog who experienced a fleeting moment in the sun continues at Richmond, a short track like Bristol but one with characteristics more comparable to a superspeedway.
As it is most everywhere, DiBenedetto’s Richmond record is sparse, having finished 37th and 36th in his only two starts on the three-quarter-mile oval. He will start 36th Sunday, a position determined by practice speeds after rain canceled qualifying.
But as Bristol demonstrated, Cinderella still has a place in NASCAR even though at times it appears as if the smaller teams are being squeezed.
“Short track racing is my whole background in racing,” DiBenedetto said. “It’s what I grew up doing, so anytime we come to a short track it’s right at home and comfortable for me. I’m excited.”
And what if DiBenedetto can again do the seemingly improbable and leave Richmond with a sixth-place finish? Does a repeat of what ensued at Bristol await?
“I’m not going to kiss him anymore, I can tell you that,” Devine said. “I’m done doing that until he does something else.”