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NASCAR Free Agent Profile: Matt DiBenedetto Faces Thin Market After Year Of Regression

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at August 31, 2021

Through July and August, I’m evaluating high-profile NASCAR free agents in advance of the 2022 Cup Series season, with valuations of their on-track production, identification of their statistical strengths and weaknesses and analysis of their best fit among likely suitors.

Today’s evaluation highlights Matt DiBenedetto, currently a driver for Wood Brothers Racing.

The Skinny: Matt DiBenedetto was notified 10 months ago that he wouldn’t return to the Team Penske/Wood Brothers Racing program. But when Brad Keselowski bolted from Penske to Roush Fenway Racing, it left a ride open, and there was thought that if DiBenedetto performed well, it’d force a U-turn.

That didn’t happen. Penske stuck to its guns, promoting two Xfinity Series drivers. Now, DiBenedetto is on the market for a competitive ride in advance of 2022.

Open Market Value: DiBenedetto’s exact production is worth $2.44 million per season according to Motorsports Analytics driver valuations, but he’s unlikely to receive anything near that given the team options available. This OMV represents a 17.2 percent decrease from his value at the end of 2020. A regression analysis projects a 2022 season worth $3.027 million on the open market.

Stat Profile: DiBenedetto’s strengths and style are visible in his spider chart, compared to other drivers with similar average running positions:

Everything — his Production in Equal Equipment Rating, his surplus pass value and even his quality restarting numbers — is down from 2020, a sign that regression has set in following DiBenedetto’s only playoff-worthy campaign to date. This is reflected in his stat profile (above) compared to other drivers in the 13th-18th running range, which consists of fellow playoff contenders Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell.

DiBenedetto might be a driver towards the bottom of that range based on quantifiable skill, but that’d still make him one of the 20 most productive drivers in NASCAR’s top series, surely good enough for a quality ride if the sport was more of a meritocracy than it is.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and DiBenedetto doesn’t have personal sponsor funding to sweeten his chances of landing a ride with an upstart program — GMS Racing is seeking a funded driver for its debut Cup Series effort in 2022 — or a competitive ride that’s already established. That’s a shame, because the 30-year-old would instantly bring an identity to the team that will have him, turning them into a short-run dynamo; his 3.048 PEER split in races with at least one late restart ranks second in the series.

Likely Suitors: None at the Cup Series level

Best Fit: Front Row Motorsports

There are possibilities for DiBenedetto, but they’re all scenario-based. Front Row Motorsports would make for a perfect fit — their big-track focus aligns with one of DiBenedetto’s strengths — but they’re more likely to contract than expand. JTG Daugherty Racing would offer a competitive outlet if Ryan Preece elects to leave. Rick Ware Racing prefers drivers with a modest amount of personal funding but doesn’t offer competitive resources, a nightmare proposition.

At this point, DiBenedetto may have to settle for a new home — even if it’s not in the Cup Series — he views as temporary.

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