By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
Leavine Family Racing and Matt DiBenedetto continue to be the ‘little team that could.’
As the final stage of the Drydene 400 went caution-free at Dover International Speedway, DiBenedetto’s No. 95 Dumont Jets Toyota Camry restarted outside the top-10. While others made mistakes on pit road, the Mike Wheeler-led team had a mistake-free, disciplined run.
DiBenedetto inched forward, passing both Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Grid drivers and those not in the playoffs. As green flag pit stops took place in the final stage, the Grass Valley, Calif. native cracked the top-10. When the checkered flag waved, he found himself in seventh and on the lead lap.
DiBenedetto explained that the top-10 was a team effort.
“All day, inching forward. Very little by little. That was the team, just so you know. Wheels (Mike Wheeler, crew chief) and my whole group, pit crew, everybody, making really good adjustments. This was the first time we’ve had Dumont Jets on the car in quite a while and I was like ‘this Dumont Jets car is flying’.
“But no, it took a lot of discipline today. The car was really fast. Even faster than seventh-place, but you get in situations with the dirty air and with the high downforce it was a lot harder to pass. The fastest drivers had to be a lot more disciplined. You had to stay behind them and not abuse your stuff and wait for traffic or situations to pounce.”
The 28-year-old bettered half of the playoff grid at the 1.0-mile concrete track. While some experienced mechanical problems, others simply fell behind. The 20th-place qualifier took full advantage of both circumstances.
While LFR is aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing, it’s not the same alliance that Furniture Row Racing once had. Each top-10 is an accomplishment and a sign that even without the ‘enhanced alliance,’ the Bob Leavine-owned team is improving.
“It’s been big. It’s really neat. I love working with this team. They are such good people. I’m so appreciative to work with them. I’m so glad this whole second half of the season has really turned around where we have been knocking off a bunch of top-10’s, so it’s really important to us.”
The seventh-place finish leaves DiBenedetto 43-points outside of the top-20. Chris Buescher is the closest driver in points, and inside the top-20. Six races remain for DiBenedetto to achieve a top-20 finish in the points standings.
A top-20 finish is a common goal between DiBenedetto and LFR as he explained.
“We’re trying to get in the top-20 in points. We’ve been climbing up big time the second half of the year running where we probably deserved to run. I hate that we aren’t in the Playoffs, because we have been contending like a Playoff car. But it is what it is. I’m just thankful we’ve had some good solid runs. This Toyota has been running fast.”
The seventh-place finish is the seventh top-10 finish for DiBenedetto this season. It is the 11th top-10 in his Cup Series career.