By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Since being named as the driver of the famed No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford for the 2020 season, Matt DiBenedetto has made no secret of just how excited he is to drive for a team engrained with so much history in NASCAR Cup Series competition.
Now, DiBenedetto is showing why he was the right man for the job after tying his career-best finish with a second-place result in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“This one was an encouraging second-place finish for sure,” DiBenedetto said. “It’s so cool. It’s too dang surreal to be driving this thing in the first place, the legendary Motorcraft/Quick Lane No. 21. It’s so cool to have the support of them and Menards and Ford and this whole team. It took so many people and it’s so cool to be driving for the Wood Brothers.
“We’re close – the second race of the season and we’re already starting off with a second-place finish. That’s great. I’m happy for Joey. Those Penske cars were really fast and I can’t thank them enough for their help of our team as well.”
DiBenedetto started the day in 19th after qualifying was rained out and while he wasn’t able to crack the top-10 at the end of either the first or second stage, he was near the front of the field when it mattered most – the end of the race.
Electing to stay out on track with a number of other cars when a late caution flag flew with only a handful of laps remaining, DiBenedetto saw his shot to try and get in position for the win and he took it.
Diving underneath William Byron on the restart, the two made contact, with Byron getting the worst of it and dropping back into the swarm of cars behind them, while DiBenedetto was able to advance to second-place before the yellow flag flew to bring the race to an end.
Regardless of how he got there, DiBenedetto and Wood Brothers came nail bitingly close to being able to claim their 100th win. If Sunday is any indication, it’s only a matter of time before that becomes a reality.
“I made a real aggressive move there. Greg Erwin, my crew chief, made great calls and that’s what it took to get us up there and inch up there all day.
“This team is phenomenal. There’s no doubt about that. I was a little worried about our car, though. It wasn’t a picture-perfect day. We had to make huge adjustments and our communication was great from me screaming really loose and us being off to start and then dialing it in little by little every pit stop, and then getting it there at the end where I was comfortable staying out because I knew the car had great speed. It was best on the long runs and we just needed a little track position because we were a little stuck in the dirty air.
“That’s what makes a great team. We didn’t start off great, but to know that we can close, make the right adjustments, do all the right things, my pit crew can do an excellent job – all the things that tie a race together.”