DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – Entering Sunday’s 61st annual Daytona 500, Matt DiBenedetto had led a combined 23 laps for his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. But, 2019 just felt different for DiBenedetto.
He joined a new team, one that is still underfunded, but one that is very much in transition. A few weeks ago, Leavine Family Racing didn’t even have enough parts to fire up DiBenedetto’s No. 95 Toyota.
On Sunday, he leaves Daytona as the lap leader in the Cup Series for 2019.
DiBenedetto, first took over the lead in the Great American Race on Lap 7 and would lead 49 of the 207 overall. That’s more than his entire Cup career combined entering 2019. His car looked like the best out there among the 40 starters. He kept finding the front of the pack.
That’s not entirely surprising for an LFR superspeedway car. Michael McDowell brought this car home with four straight top 15 finishes at Daytona. Kasey Kahne finished fourth in it in last July’s Coke Zero Sugar 400.
For 2019 though, the team has a new alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, replacing Furniture Row Racing in the Toyota camp, but also moves from Chevrolet to Toyota too. With a new driver, new spotter and new team members, it’s a transition year for them.
They looked stronger than ever before on Sunday and if not for being tagged by Paul Menard on Lap 190, sparking a 18 car melee, he was in the hunt to win.
At the time, DiBenedetto was battling well inside of the top 10 with 10 laps remaining in regulation. That’s a great sign of things to come for him and this team.