By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Matt DiBenedetto’s momentous first year with Wood Brothers Racing continued after a one-day turnaround puts him a bit closer of making the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with just Daytona (road course and oval) and the Dover doubleheader remaining in the regular season.
Following a disappointing 15th in Saturday’s FireKeepers Casino 400, DiBenedetto’s second go around at Michigan International Speedway was more encouraging as he finished seventh in Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400.
In what can be best described as a tough race that even DiBenedetto had himself saying his No. 21 #FordStrong Technicians Ford Mustang felt like a tongue was hanging out, his Wood Brothers crew made improvements without having to play defense throughout the 156-lap race.
“I’m just glad we were able to get a top 10 out of it finishing seventh,” said DiBenedetto, who scored a career-equal seventh top-10 of the year. “You can take a car that’s a struggle and something that we’re not satisfied with and struggled with all weekend and make some improvements with, but if we take a car like that and finish seventh with it and move on, that just shows the strength of our team and how we keep getting better. If you can make your bad days a top 10, sometimes that’s all you can hope for.”
As a result of another solid points day, DiBenedetto will head into Sunday’s Go Bowling 235 at the Daytona International Speedway road course (Sunday, August 16 at 3:00 p.m. on NBC) with a 57-point playoff cushion over Erik Jones and Jimmie Johnson.
Despite going to a familiar track, the next race is new for nearly the entire Cup roster as they’re running the Rolex 24 road course with an added chicane before the tri-oval without any practice or qualifying. Those decisions created more controversial topics the sport has dealt with this year as many feel it’ll be a total crap shoot.
On the contrary, the race layout doesn’t really phase DiBenedetto, who’s currently 15th in points.
He commented that he’ll approach the road course as any other race — race smart.
“You don’t want to make any stupid mistakes, so racing smart will be very key, especially on a new racetrack where a lot of us are unfamiliar with, so just trying to run smart. I’ve been called patiently aggressive,” said DiBenedetto. “I think that’s maybe a cool and good description that I like and I try to live by, and I guess that’s maybe sort of my style — so be smart and be aggressive when you can when it counts and drive hard. As a lot of people know road course racing is probably my favorite thing to do, so I’m looking forward to that. We’ve had a lot of success on road courses in the past.”
Another solid race will put the 29-year-old Californian a step closer of making the playoffs for the first time. Going forward, DiBenedetto hopes the entire No. 21 team continue building on their momentum, citing the doubleheader at Dover International Speedway in two weeks being a decent indicator of what to expect for the rest of 2020.
“The last couple of months have been great. These next tracks there’s some that are a little bit of indicators of playoff stuff — maybe Dover will be a decent indicator, a couple 750-horsepower tracks. There’s a majority of those remaining in the season, which is cool,” DiBenedetto commented.
“I think we’ll go up there and there are good tracks coming up for us that I look forward to personally, so rack up as many points as humanly possible and I don’t think I’ve even thought much past these next handful of races just because I’m trying to keep focused making sure we have solid, good races — keep running up front like we have been, racking up the points and make sure we get ourselves in the playoffs because that’s all that matters in general right now because I know once we make it into the playoffs like we want to and we should, I really think we can be contenders and do a great job in the playoffs and we won’t just be there.
“We’ve been running up front consistently and showed that, and the second part of the season has a ton of really good racetracks in it that I look forward to a lot, so I think we could have a great, great finish to the season.”