By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Matt DiBenedetto’s day at Bristol Motor Speedway started comically as the driver of the No. 83 Toyota Camry was dressed as a member of ZZ Top with full beard, guitar and all during driver introductions. As the race concluded a few hours later, nobody was laughing as DiBenedetto drove to a career-best sixth place finish in the Food City 500.
DiBenedetto rolled off the grid from the 30th position, but by lap 77, he was already inside the top-20, where he would remain virtually the rest of the race.
Around the mid-way point of the race, DiBenedetto would fall a lap down during a green-flag stretch, but he would work his way back into contention on lap 339, when the caution came out for an accident involving Casey Mears, Michael Annett and AJ Allmendinger. DiBenedetto, who was in position for the lucky dog free pass, would get his lap back. From this moment on DiBenedetto would continue to work his way through the field.
With 40 to go, DiBenedetto moved to the top-15 when the caution flag came out. When a big stack-up occurred on the next restart, DiBenedetto worked to the ninth position. When the green flag came back out DiBenedetto took advantage of restarting on the top-side in the 10th position and rocketed around more cars. When the checkered flag waved at the conclusion of lap 500, DiBenedetto was in sixth.
DiBenedetto is such an incredible underdog story. He had a small sponsor, Cosmo Motors on his BK Racing Toyota Sunday, and when he climbed from the car he had tears in his eyes.
“I’m sorry I’m so speechless,” DiBenedetto said in jubilance. “Just I’m so thankful to everybody on this team, everybody at BK Racing, Cosmo Motors in Hickory, North Carolina – they’re local to me, he’s my best friend, sell some awesome cars, please check them out – everyone at BK Racing, Dustless Blasting. These guys, man – that’s unbelievable for a team like to us to be growing this much and for us to get a sixth-place run – I’m sorry I’m so emotional, it’s just this is like a win for us. I am so excited. I see my family back here – my wife, Taylor, my brother is in town from the military and I’m so glad he got to experience this. This is just – this is incredible. I’m so blessed to be here.”
DiBenedetto’s amazing season began as he shocked the world in making the Daytona 500 after a great run in the Budweiser Duel qualifying race at Daytona. The 24-year old driver’s first Daytona 500 ended in a crash at lap 91, but since that day DiBenedetto and his crew chief, Gene Nead have worked their way up the Sprint Cup Series leaderboard.
They finished top-30 in Atlanta, then a couple of races later DiBenedetto recorded his second-career top-20 finish with a 20th-place effort in Phoenix. Now comes an incredible finish for the team in Bristol, which marks the best finish for the BK Racing team. The previous best finish for Ron Devine’s race team was an eighth-place finish by Travis Kvapil at Talladega in the fall of 2012.
DiBenedetto talked about the impact that this incredible run at Bristol has on his race team.
“A sixth-place finish for BK Racing and for all my guys, this is like a win for us,” DiBenedetto explained. “I apologize for being so emotional, but this is an incredible run. I can’t thank my team enough, my crew chief Gene Need and everyone on this team for working so hard and busting their tails for me to be able to drive this race car in the Sprint Cup Series. This is such an honor and I’m so thankful to all the sponsors – Dustless Blasting, Cosmo Motors, Dr. Pepper and I know I’m forgetting people. Thank you to the fans most importantly – they are so great and so supportive. I’m just really thankful to be here, this was a great day.”
DiBenedetto has now broken into the top-30 of the championship standings, which doesn’t sound super impressive to fans of Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and others, but for underdogs like DiBenedetto that’s a huge milestone. It also makes DiBenedetto eligible for the Chase if he were to snag a win this season.
Now, this team is far from being week-in and week-out race win contenders, but from where they were just a couple of months ago, this No. 83 team has done a hell of a job. Now all of a sudden, it’s not too unimaginable to think this Cinderella story could be a true contender in the near future.
Image: BK Racing Twitter