By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
DARLINGTON, S.C. – Strong runs for Matt DiBenedetto continued at Darlington Raceway as he earned back-to-back top-10 finishes for the first time in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.
The No. 95 IMSA GTO Throwback Toyota Camry battled Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, and Paul Menard in the closing laps of the Bojangles Southern 500. DiBenedetto fought Bowyer hard until he fell behind in lapped traffic. He lost another spot to Busch in the closing laps.
However, DiBenedetto held off Menard all the way to the checkered flag. The Leavine Family Racing driver crossed the line in eighth. The top-10 comes just two weeks after DiBenedetto finished second in an emotional end to the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
DiBenedetto believed that his strong runs prove that he and LFR belong in the playoffs.
“We’ve been on a great roll the second half of the season. I wish we could have a won Bristol and snuck in the playoffs because we’re showing that we do belong there now. You know, it just took some building at the beginning of the season to get where we are.
“Now that the rhythm and everything is nice, we’re all working together great, and the flow of everything’s much smoother. It just shows we’ve had a lot of top-10s, top-fives just been running really strong. I think that our first top-10 at a 550-spec track because they’re tougher ones where you’re a wide open a lot longer.”
With one race left until the start of the playoffs, DiBenedetto faces an uphill battle. 22nd in the championship points standings, only a victory can secure the 28-year-old a playoff berth.
DiBenedetto is hopeful he could ‘sneak’ into the playoffs at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next weekend.
“I’d like to think so, but being realistic, that’s going to be a tougher track for us. 550-spec. It’s a little harder for our ability as a team and me as a driver to do much more there because you’re going to be wide open a lot. It’s gonna be real track position dependent.
“We’re real good on the 750 tracks where you’re out of the gas more and having to use the brake pedals. Indy would be tough but we’re going to just keep battling and keep doing what we’re doing our team executes. It shows that we can be there when it accounts.”
Although DiBenedetto earned a top-10 finish, he was just outside the top-10 throughout much of the 500-mile race. He leapt into the top-10 after he avoided a multi-car accident on lap 276. DiBenedetto hovered just outside the top-five but was never broke through.