NASCAR: The one free agent who won’t return in 2022

With talks of new contracts surrounding several pending free agents for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, there is one driver we already know for sure won’t be back with his current team next year.

We are nearing the one-third mark of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season as well as the halfway mark of the regular season, and several drivers who entered the year without contracts to compete next year have already signed deals to be back with their current teams.

Most notably, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. have both extended their contracts to continue driving the #11 Toyota and #19 Toyota, respectively, for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2022.

But there are still quite a few drivers whose contracts are due to expire at the end of the 2021 season, and there are never any guarantees when it comes to the sport’s top level.

Except this year, there is one guarantee for one of those drivers: he won’t be back with his 2021 team.

That driver is Matt DiBenedetto. Fortunately, he has known this since late last season, and it is quite interesting how it all unfolded. Due to the technical alliance between Team Penske and Wood Brothers Racing, the latter needed the former’s approval to run who they want to run behind the wheel of the #21 Ford in 2021.

Team Penske wanted to promote Xfinity Series driver Austin Cindric to the car for 2021, effectively as a stepping stone for him before he was truly ready to make the jump to Roger Penske’s Cup Series team.

But due to DiBenedetto’s performance after he was eliminated from last year’s playoffs, specifically his second place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and his strong run at Talladega Superspeedway that unfortunately ended with a penalty, Team Penske changed their minds.

However, in doing so, they confirmed that the 2021 season would be the 29-year-old Grass Valley, California native’s final season with the team and that Cindric would be replacing him behind the wheel of famed #21 car ahead of the 2022 campaign.

So while it is confirmed that DiBenedetto won’t be back with the Wood Brothers next year, he doesn’t know where he’ll be, making the 2021 silly season another silly season full of very much uncertainty for the veteran — something he has gotten quite used to over the years.

When this news was announced last October, the 2021 season effectively became an audition for DiBenedetto to sell himself to whichever other team or teams want to sign him for 2022.

After a dreadful start to the year, which can be chalked up to quite a few circumstances out of his control, he has battled back and now sits in a provisional playoff spot.

As for some of the other top free agents on the market, we can be pretty sure that Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman isn’t going anywhere, and the same can probably be said for Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski. But the only thing that is certain so far among the remaining free agents for next year is that Matty D will not be back with his current organization.

With silly season starting to heat up as we near the summer stretch of races, expect to know more regarding the statuses of several of the pending free agents in the not-too-distant future.