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Matt DiBenedetto: Joining Wood Brothers, Penske has been ‘hard to process’

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It has been a week of firsts for Matt DiBenedetto and his racing career.

Wednesday saw the 28-year-old Wood Brothers Racing driver became the first to pilot a Xfinity Series car on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, part of a test for the series’ inaugural race on the circuit on July 4 (1:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

It was also DiBenedetto’s first time in a car as a member of the Wood Brothers/Team Penske alliance, four months after the Wood Brothers chose him as the next driver of the No. 21 Ford at the urging of their previous driver, Paul Menard.

“Opportunities like this are things I’ll never forget for the rest of my life,” DiBendetto said during a break in the test. “I’ll be able to say forever, ‘Hey, I got asked by Mr. (Roger) Penske himself, that whole team, by NASCAR, folks at IMS, everyone, to come and be the first ever to run the road course (in a Team Penske Xfinity car).”

Throw in DiBenedetto taking part in his first “Penske Games” (a series of humorous games pitting every Penske driver against each other) and it’s been downright eventful.

The day after the Indy test, DiBenedetto said moving from Leavine Family Racing over to Wood Brothers Racing has been “hard to process.”

“It’s crazy,” DiBenedetto said Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.” “I was talking to Kyle Petty and he said it even better than I could. He said, ‘Matt, you will never driver for a better group of people the rest of your life. You will be part of that family for the rest of your entire life. You’ll be driving for them and a part of history.'”

Petty, an analyst for NBC Sports, drove for the Wood Brothers from 1985-88, winning his first two Cup races in that time.

“It was just amazing some of the things that he said and how amazing a family that they are,” DiBenedetto said. “The opportunity, as everyone knows, is unreal. It’s hard for me to put into words. My wife (Taylor) was crying endlessly when I got that opportunity. Her family has been huge fans of them for so many years. There’s so much history there.

“On top of that, what’s so amazing is if anyone hasn’t been to Stuart, (Virginia) and gone to the Wood Brothers Racing museum, they should. It’s worth the trip to go up there. What’s so cool to see is the amount of pride that they have. On top of all the history, them telling all the stories and how much pride they have for their race team and NASCAR is so unbelievable. Then to have a shot at going and chasing that 100th win this year is going to be such an honor.”

That 100th Cup win for the Wood Brothers would come with just one victory by DiBenedetto this season. It would also be his first Cup Series win.

Five of Wood Brothers Racing’s last seven wins, dating back to Petty at Richmond in 1986, have been via first-time winners in Cup: Dale Jarrett (Michigan, 1991), Elliott Sadler (Bristol, 2001), Trevor Bayne (2011 Daytona 500) and Ryan Blaney (Pocono, 2017).

DiBenedetto will pursue that trip to victory lane with crew chief Greg Erwin.

Erwin worked on the No. 21 the last two seasons with Menard, but has been a crew chief with Team Penske since 2013 in the Xfinity Series.

“We’ve put a lot of time into … spending a ton of time together, me, Greg and then also going to lunch, splitting up into groups and going to lunch with all the different guys on our race team,” DiBenedetto. “These guys are your family. I’m going to spend more time with my race team on the road than I will with my own wife this season. These guys are your family and you’re going to go to war with each other 38 weekends a year. … I’ve put a lot of emphasis on that and getting to know Greg, which we’ve meshed really well together.”

DiBenedetto’s process includes diligently inputing questions into his phone to ask Erwin later.

“It’ll be nine at night and I’ll be sitting on the couch and … I’ll put in my notes, ‘Oh, I want to ask him about this or this situation or if we’re this far into a run or if there’s a big split decision pit call, how would we communicate something, me or my spotter Doug Campbell,” DiBenedetto told SiriusXM. “It’s just more so going through all those questions so that when you do go to the race track you’re as prepared as possible and ready for how I communicate and how he communicates so we can all mesh as quick as possible and get out of the gates strong and go compete for those wins.”

Even after Wednesday’s test, DiBenedetto is “a little overly eager” to get back to the track.

“(His wife) realizes I’m getting extremely bored,” DiBenedetto said. “She’s like ‘You need to go to the dang race track, good lord you’re getting on my nerves.'”

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NASCAR America presents MotorMouths airs at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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Today’s edition of NASCAR America presents MotorMouths airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

On the show will be Rutledge Wood, Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan.

Obviously, the main topic of discussion will be this weekend’s championship races, particularly the Cup battle between Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.

You can join the conversation by calling 1-844-NASCARNBC or reach out on Twitter via #LetMeSayThis.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Phoenix recap

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and reviews the weekend’s racing at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.

Jeff Burton will be joined by Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Podcast: Dale Jarrett believes Joey Logano (wisely) spun intentionally

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NASCAR on NBC analyst and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett believes Joey Logano intentionally spun his car late in the Martinsville race after contact with the car of Denny Hamlin.

The reason in Jarrett’s mind? Logano’s spin brought out a caution that helped keep the Team Penske driver on the lead lap instead of losing two laps if he had limped into the pits under green to change tires.

There’s no doubt in my mind he spun his car intentionally and finally in a place when he realized he had a problem, and he was going to need a caution because they were going to go a couple laps down if they had to pit under green and make this change,” Jarrett said on this week’s postrace playoff edition of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast with Nate Ryan.

After contact with Hamlin that squeezed him into the wall and left his left-rear tire flat, Logano nearly lost control of his No. 22 Ford in Turn 4.

After traveling down the frontstretch on Lap 458, the car looped in the outside lane of Turn 1 without hitting the wall or another car. That brought out a caution that allowed Logano to pit for four tires.

Logano essentially forced NASCAR to decide if his action was intentional, Jarrett said. As it turned out, NASCAR did not penalize Logano. Officials told NBC Sports that the incident wasn’t reviewed by the scoring tower.

According to ground rules provided to Cup crew chiefs, NASCAR officials can penalize at their discretion if they determine a driver intentionally caused a caution. There also have been postrace penalties in the past after NASCAR determined that drivers spun intentionally to cause a yellow.

“Why not put the ball in NASCAR’s court to try to decide?” Jarrett said. It’s a ball and strike call. I’ll take it even further than that: Did the pitcher intentionally hit a batter? There’s only one person that really knows for sure if that’s the case. And in this case, there’s only one person that knows 100 percent.

“I think I know as a driver and competitor in that situation that I’d rather take my chances on NASCAR having to make that call and said I created a caution intentionally. I think that’s a one-lap penalty if you do that. That’s less than what they were going to lose if they went in under green and change tires.

Why not put (NASCAR) in that position? They might not make that call. It might look like (Logano) was carrying too much speed and just spun.

“But there’s no doubt in my mind that he did the thing that most of us – most of as drivers – would have done in that situation. I don’t fault him at all. It’s no different than a crew chief pushing the limits of what he can get through inspection. A driver is doing the same thing. And in this case, I think he’s going to come out with a better end, whichever way the call went there.”

Logano salvaged an eighth-place finish at Martinsville that kept him in the final transfer spot for the playoffs, 14 points above the cutline. If he had pitted under green with 40 laps remaining, he likely would have finished outside the top 20.

“Now those guys that are below the cutline kind of wish that would have played out that way so that everybody’d be a lot closer to that cut line,” Jarrett said.

Noting how hard Logano raced at Dover while 24 laps down because every playoff point matters, Jarrett said Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon have skillfully maximized points while minimizing potentially negative outcomes for the No. 22 during the playoffs.

This is four races in a row for Joey Logano and his team to make something of literally a disaster for them,” Jarrett said. “They didn’t make that much at Dover once they had that problem, but the other two races in the Round of 12, they came back and made something after getting crashed at Talladega and here again (at Martinsville), having another problem that could have put them outside the top four here, but they came back and saved that.

He was able to keep his wits about him – which is hard to do for a driver – and drive up through the field and get something of it.”

You can listen to the NASCAR on NBC Podcast via the embed above or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Google Play. You also can watch the podcast via the Motorsports on NBC YouTube channel.

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NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Kansas recap

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and looks back at Sunday’s Cup elimination race at Kansas won by Denny Hamlin.

Steve Letarte is joined by Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.