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A day after wholly embracing the right-wing euphemism that NASCAR has distanced itself from, Cup Series driver Matt DiBenedetto issued an apology video for his actions on Monday.
Friday, NASCAR president Steve Phelps said the sanctioning body did not want to be associated with the "Let's go Brandon" chant that has served as a synonym for "F*** Joe Biden" to show displeasure with the President of the United States.
"We do not want to associate ourselves with politics, the left or the right," Phelps said Friday. "We obviously have and we've always had as a sport tremendous respect for the office of the president no matter who is sitting.
"I think it's an unfortunate situation. Do we like the fact that it kind of started with NASCAR and then is gaining ground elsewhere? No, we're not happy about that. But we will continue to make sure that we have respect for the office of the president."
The chant morphed because of what happened at Talladega in October. When Brandon Brown climbed from his car after winning the second-tier Xfinity Series race he was interviewed on the track by NBC's Kelli Stavast. While Stavast had headphones on to hear her producers, fans in the grandstands started chanting "F*** Joe Biden." Likely unable to hear exactly what the fans were saying because of those headphones, Stavast said that fans were chanting "Let's go Brandon."
After clips of the interview went viral in the hours after the race, conservative media outlets weaponized Stavast's words and "Let's go Brandon" has morphed into an inside joke creeping into the mainstream in the weeks since the race.
What DiBenedetto did at Phoenix
Hours after Phelps said that NASCAR didn't want anything to do with the "Let's go Brandon" chant, DiBenedetto reveled in it.
DiBenedetto had invited a conservative social media personality to the race for the weekend and that person wore a shirt with "Let's go Brandon" on it while at the track with the driver. Before climbing into his car for qualifying on Saturday, DiBenedetto said the phrase for a social media video that didn't even spell his name correctly.
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) November 7, 2021
DiBenedetto then continued his support for the phrase on Sunday before the race as he hung out with the same person in the same shirt at his car.
Yahoo Sports reached out through representatives to DiBenedetto on Monday morning for an explanation of his actions. The driver referred to an apology video he had posted to Instagram.
In the video, DiBenedetto references the guilt he feels for his actions over the weekend, though he doesn't specifically address his support of the euphemism or mention it at all in the near four-minute video.
“I went against everything that I — I passionately believe in those things — but I didn’t deliver it the right way," DiBenedetto said. "And shame on me. I deserve whatever loss of respect I get from some people but I’m just going to be vulnerable and pull the band-aid here and get that out because I had a lot of guilt weighed on me and for good, good reason.”
DiBenedetto has no ride in 2022
DiBenedetto's actions made very little sense in the wake of Phelps' comments. While DiBenedetto is absolutely entitled to his own political views, his expression of those views through a slogan that NASCAR said it wanted nothing to do with was a curious choice for someone desperate to find a job in NASCAR next season.
It doesn't seem like the best idea to risk ticking off the people in charge of the sports series that you're trying to find a job in. DiBenedetto might have realized that after the fact.
Sunday was DiBenedetto's final race in the No. 21 car for Wood Brothers Racing and he has no job lined up for next season. DiBenedetto was hired by the team ahead of the 2020 season and given a guaranteed one-year contract. He stayed with the team for 2021 when it announced in October of 2020 that DiBenedetto would continue for another season before being replaced at the end of 2021.
The opportunity in the No. 21 was DiBenedetto's chance of a lifetime. After driving for underfunded teams for most of his Cup Series career, DiBenedetto was joining a team that had visited victory lane less than three seasons prior with Ryan Blaney at the wheel.
DiBenedetto never won a race with the team. And while he made the 16-driver playoffs in 2020, he missed out on the playoffs in 2021. That lack of performance combined with DiBenedetto's lack of ready-made sponsorship has left him on the sidelines heading into the 2022 season.
DiBenedetto's actions over the past weeks
As drivers have lined up rides for next season and DiBenedetto's job prospects have seemingly dwindled, the 30-year-old has said that he wants to find a team that will let him speak freely. He said in an October interview on NASCAR's SiriusXM channel that he wanted to find a team that would let him talk about religion and politics and he's embraced those topics on his social media channels.
He also briefly deleted his Twitter account last week over backlash to something that he tweeted. After Kyle Busch was mandated by NASCAR to take sensitivity training for his use of the r-word in a post-race interview at Martinsville, DiBenedetto attempted to play down Busch's use of the slur.
I feel like living on planet Earth in 2021 is permanent sensitivity training 😂 https://t.co/GTuDGQLCos
— Matt DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) November 2, 2021
In an Instagram video explaining why he deleted his Twitter account, DiBenedetto blamed the toxicity of Twitter users and didn't appear to understand why people would have taken issue with what he said.
DiBenedetto also appeared on a conservative political podcast before Sunday's race at Phoenix. On the podcast he said that he felt that he was called to share a "bigger message" than just driving a car in NASCAR and also claimed that the concept of freedom of speech only exists "as long as it fits in this box."
“I can’t stay quiet on topics that I’m super passionate about while I see such important values in our country going down the tubes and our young generation being brainwashed to think that you can’t talk about God, country and freedom, all these things that make us so lucky and blessed to be here," DiBenedetto said.
Anyone who pays a modicum of attention to NASCAR knows those topics are not off-limits. NASCAR teams host military veterans at every race, the series has an annual patriotism push sponsored by Coca-Cola, and each race is prefaced with a prayer and the national anthem.
And besides, the concept of freedom of speech within the First Amendment only applies to the government's actions, not the actions of individuals and private businesses. The First Amendment does not prohibit someone from experiencing the consequences of his or her words. If it did, NASCAR wouldn't have been able to mandate sensitivity training for Busch.
After his actions over the weekend, DiBenedetto is now in a position to learn about actions and consequences firsthand. In a league where jobs are so heavily reliant on sponsorship dollars, DiBenedetto's quest to find a good ride in 2022 could have gotten even tougher.