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Matt DiBenedetto thought he was done with NASCAR. Then he got the opportunity of a lifetime.

Alex Andrejev, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

When Matt DiBenedetto lost his ride with Leavine Family Racing in August, it wasn't the first time he had to share tough news about his job with his parents. But it was the worst.

"I don't think I've ever in my whole life actually seen my parents at a point that low in their lives," DiBenedetto said, "just because of how much we all care about this."

As a California transplant without a legacy in the sport, DiBenedetto said he and his family have had their "teeth kicked in many times" trying to navigate the world of NASCAR teams, contracts and sponsorships. The odds, he said, have been stacked against him.

"We moved cross-country as a family (to race) when we were younger," DiBenedetto said. "You name it, we've sacrificed it all. And probably honestly, we've been very naive."

So when DiBenedetto learned he would not be returning to his No. 95 car with LFR in order to make room for Cup Series rookie Christopher Bell, it was a devastating blow. DiBenedetto still had more than a year remaining on his contract and no backup plan.

His fear was that his parents' sacrifice had been for nothing.

 

"I have no other passion in life," DiBenedetto, 28, said. "I just race. I live, eat, sleep and breathe this stuff, so I don't know. I'd be a lost individual without (racing)."

DiBenedetto was coping with that thought in early September while his wife, Taylor, wept daily, concerned about their future.

A few weeks later, he got a call that changed everything. DiBenedetto was invited to meet with members of Wood Brothers Racing and Team Penske -- a meeting that ended in an offer to drive the No. 21 car for the Wood Brothers and more tears from his wife. This time, however, they were inspired by pure joy.

"It all happened fairly quickly," said Wood Brothers team co-owner Eddie Wood. "Paul (Menard) told us he was going to retire at the end of the year. We asked him who he thought we should get and he came up with Matt. He's really the only one we talked to."

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