By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
Through the carnage and smoke, Matt DiBenedetto emerged unscathed on his way to a Top-10 finish at Daytona International Speedway.
With weather in the area, the intensity increased dramatically in the final stage of the Coke Zero Sugar 400. DiBenedetto attempted to stay in line with his fellow Toyota Racing drivers. His No. 95 Procore Toyota Camry was shuffled out of line and he found himself in the middle of the hornets’ nest.
On lap 118, contact between Austin Dillon and Clint Bowyer at the front of the field set off ‘the big one.’ As the track quickly became blocked, DiBenedetto’s options became limited. Spotter Doug Campbell guided his Leavine Family Racing driver around the destroyed car of Martin Truex, Jr., and through the carnage.
“I couldn’t see anything in the crash other than crap everywhere, so I listened to Doug 100%,” DiBenedetto admitted. “I went wherever he told me. He said go low and I just slammed it down on the apron and hoped no one was underneath me. There wasn’t and we avoided it somehow, so Doug gets credit for that one.”
The race never restarted with lightning and rain forcing NASCAR to end it after 127 laps. DiBenedetto was credited with an eighth-place finish in the rain-shortened race.
After qualifying was rained out, the starting grid was set by owner points. DiBenedetto started deep in the turbulent air, 25th. Several drivers struggled with either loose or tight racecars deep in the pack. DiBenedetto somehow held on until his Mike Wheeler-led team could make adjustments.
“We worked on the car a lot with adjustments,” DiBenedetto explained. “We got it much better handling. People are really sliding around a lot in the turbulence of the dirty air. We’ve got our car driving good. It leads really good if I can get there, so it has really good speed and it drives good now.”
The eighth-place finish is the second top-10 for DiBenedetto this season. It is also the sixth of his Cup Series career.
The 27-year-old year remains 25th in the championship points standings, 424-points behind points leader Joey Logano. DiBenedetto is 167-points behind the cutoff for the playoffs, held by Ryan Newman with eight races left in the regular season.