Jeff Burton believes Matt DiBenedetto deserves a Cup ride, but the NASCAR on NBC analyst also believes criticizing the team that put DiBenedetto on the open market is unfair.
DiBenedetto was informed two weeks ago by Leavine Family Racing that his contract wouldn’t be renewed, reportedly because the team will have Christopher Bell driving the No. 95 Toyota in 2020. DiBenedetto finished a career-best second four days later at Bristol Motor Speedway, which led to team owner Bob Leavine defending his decision to angry fans in a series of tweets the next few days.
“Fans who are on the owner of this team doing what he thinks is best, I don’t get it,” Burton said Monday on NASCAR America. “I’m a Matty D. fan. I respect him, that dude gives 100 percent. I think he should be in a Cup ride, and I think there are seats out there he should be taking, but that shouldn’t be at the cost of Christopher Bell.
“If it helps Levine Family Racing to bring Christohper Bell in, he’d be crazy not to, you’re bringing in a guy that many of us think can be a Cup superstar, to bring him into your program, make your program better, bring in some funding. That’s why (Leavine) is in this. He spent millions and millions of his own money to get to this opportunity.
“I feel bad for Matty D., but I feel great for Leavine Family Racing. That’s what this sport is about.”
DiBenedetto, who will be a guest on the Dale Jr. Download today (5 p.m. ET on NBCSN), finished 27th after spinning from second on the last lap Saturday at Road America in an Xfinity race that was won by Bell. Both were driving Joe Gibbs Racing cars.
For NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte, that result helped confirm that LFR is making the right decision.
“I know that’s an unpopular statement,” Letarte said. “What I thought is in what I consider equal equipment, while Christopher Bell may have a few more races in an Xfinity car this year, he proved to me with his sixth win, at now a road course, that he deserves a shot. Matt deserves a shot, too, but I’m not willing to take it away from Christopher Bell to give it to Matt.”
Letarte reiterated that he believes other Cup drivers should be “very worried” that DiBenedetto could take their seats but also said LFR is making the right move.
“(It) proves that maybe this team is ready to take the next step,” Letarte said. “I’ve had to let good friends go because they weren’t the best possible person for that position. We’ve all made career decisions, so the fact (LFR) was willing to make this big of a decision tells me that maybe it’s the next team trying to separate itself and join the big four or five teams that you see consistently running up front.”
Said Burton: “If Matty D doesn’t get a ride, that’s not Leavine Family Racing’s fault. They gave him a ride. They gave him a shot to show what he can do. Now he’s out there, he’s a free agent.
“Someone should pick him up, but we shouldn’t blame the racing team that said, ‘Hey, we have an opportunity to bring in Christopher Bell that can go win championships and compete at a high level and also bolster our relationship with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing.’ We shouldn’t blame (Leavine) for making that move at all.”
Watch the discussion between Burton, Letarte and Dale Jarrett in the video above from Monday’s NASCAR America.