INDIANAPOLIS – With sponsorship dollars being harder and harder to find and quality rides growing increasingly smaller, positioning yourself to get into a ride with one of the top teams within the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is as big as a race as the action on the tracks itself.
Do you hop into a ride in the Cup Series just to say your a driver in NASCAR’s premiere division? At the moment, if you have the right amount of funding, there are teams willing to take it and put you in a Cup seat. But, do you save your money and place it elsewhere with one of the top teams in a lower division and run fewer races but hope to shine with them and early a better opportunity later?
That’s what a lot of drivers are now doing.
Matt DiBenedetto announced on Friday that he’s going to be leaving GoFas Racing at the end of the season and pursue a top ride in any division. He’s made a name for himself with that ride but he’s stalled out in the growth department. The team would have wanted him back in 2019, instead, DiBenedetto, with no ride lined up for next season, decided to call it quits and hope it pays off in a big way.
Yes, a driver turned down a full season ride and a full season paycheck to look for something better.
He’s not the first though. Ryan Preece and Alex Bowman are two of the names that DiBenedetto mentioned as reasons for him doing this. Both moved their way up into Cup rides but ended up with some underfunded teams and didn’t shine. It was virtually career suicide.
While both have taken different paths to restore their names, Bowman said that it’s a risk worth taking if done right.
“There’s been a lot of luck to get me where I’m at,” Bowman said on a rainy Saturday morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “There’s a lot involved to getting me where I’m at today. It’s a lot of circumstances that if they don’t go how they’ve been that I’m not sitting here.
“Obviously Ryan Preece did a really good job of putting together some XFINITY stuff that he knew he could win in and going out and executing. Hopefully that comes out for something for him.”
Bowman, came from the USAC ranks which led him to a full season ARCA ride in 2012. Being strong in ARCA in his rookie year led him to an XFINITY Series seat for 2013. He did a good enough job and got noticed by BK Racing. They hired him for the 2014 Cup season. Unfortunately, the ride wasn’t a competitive one. His teammate at the time?
They struggled but it wasn’t for a lack of talent. The cars just weren’t good. That led Bowman to Tommy Baldwin Racing for 2015 but again, a smaller budget team and few good results. Would a once up and comer want to continue doing this?
Bowman, had some races lined up with JR Motorsports in the XFINITY Series and those circumstances led him to his first season with Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 88 Chevrolet in the Cup Series in 2018.
“It’s really tough to say that I really sat out,” Bowman continued on his situation. “It wasn’t intentional at first. I knew I had those races at JRM in the XFINITY Series to kind of fall back on when I lost my Cup ride. I wouldn’t want to sit out if you don’t’ have something. Maybe you look at (Matt) DiBenedetto taking a leap of faith and really not having anything right now. I hope somebody picks him up. He does a really good job.”
Bowman, said that even with running for JRM, if Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t miss races in that 2016 season due to concussion like symptoms, he doesn’t feel like he’s in this ride today. While he’s one situation, Preece is another.
“We ran pretty well in those nine races with JRM in 2016 but I still think if I don’t get the opportunity to drive the 88 in the Cup Series then this probably doesn’t still come along. It’s really tough to say. What (Ryan) Preece did was a little different. He went to the most dominant organization and also won right off the bat. Getting those two wins were really big for him. Every situation is a little bit different. It just depends on the person and the situation and what goes on.”
Preece, was an up and comer but took a path to what Bowman did. Work his way up the ranks to limited budget teams. While it’s a paycheck and one can say they’re a NASCAR driver, how much is it really helping your career?
Preece, took his full season budget and sponsorship and took it to Joe Gibbs Racing. Instead of racing a full season in the XFINITY or even the Cup Series in 2017, he signed on for three starts with JGR in the XFINITY Series. This was his shot.
Preece delivered. He nearly won in New Hampshire but did win in his second start with them in Iowa. That led to even more opportunities with the team for 2018 as he’s now made 10 starts with them overall. He went from an after thought to one of the hottest free agents out there.
Despite that, betting on yourself like Preece and Bowman have done have big consequences too. What happens if you don’t win in a highly competitive ride? What happens if bad luck strikes?
“Absolutely,” said Bowman on if there’s added pressure and risk once you get a shot in a top ride. “If you look at getting in the car, especially the one that (Ryan) Preece got in. If you don’t win or finish in the top three pretty consistently in that car, you’ve then hurt yourself probably more than you’ve helped yourself. For Ryan (Preece) to go out and battle Kyle Busch at Loudon and then win at Iowa was huge. To be just as fast as Kyle Busch is in the same equipment stated a pretty big statement for Ryan. He could have had a flat tire and wrecked early and everyone could have forgot about it. He did a really great job there and I think it’s going to play out well.”
Bowman said that the Cup field is as talented as it’s been because “there’s a lot of talent in the back half of the garage that doesn’t get them the credit that they deserve.”