Keeping up with the underdogs: DiBenedetto surprises in Phoenix

By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor

Heading into this past Sunday’s Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, Matt DiBenedetto, who drives the No. 83 Toyota Camry for BK Racing, had only recorded one top-20 in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event (Talladega 2015).

DiBenedetto put himself in great position to nab a good finish this week by securing the 23rd starting spot in qualifying early in the weekend, but when the race started his racecar was on the tight side of the handling spectrum.

DiBenedetto’s crew chief, Gene Nead would begin to make adjustments at a lap 51 caution.

From here on, with a dialed in car, DiBenedetto would become the pleasant surprise of the race. His car showed decent speed all day long, and he showed patience down the stretch.

During a green flag run between laps 113 and 163, DiBenedetto would get lapped by the race leader, but when the caution came out on lap 164, DiBenedetto was in position for the free pass.

DiBenedetto utilized another free pass at lap 227 when the yellow flag was displayed for debris.

Going into an overtime finish, DiBenedetto sat in 22nd place with a shot at a top-20 finish. He could have coasted home and accepted a decent 22nd place effort, but that’s not DiBenedetto’s style. In the final laps he worked around Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne’s battered race car to finish in 20th.

“I’m proud of everyone at BK Racing,” said DiBenedetto following the race. “For both [teammate] David [Ragan] and I to bring home top-25 finishes shows the effort that Ron (Devine, team owner) put into the team over the offseason. We’re working hard to bring home better results each week and this finish will give our team a confidence boost heading into Auto Club Speedway.”

This finish marks DiBenedetto’s second-career top-20 effort in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition. Now this week DiBenedetto, a California native, goes to Auto Club Speedway in his home state looking to better his best career finish of 18th, which came last season at Talladega.

DiBenedetto seems to be elevating the performance of his No. 83 machine in his second year with the team, and BK Racing — which placed four cars in the Daytona 500 — seems much improved this season.

Image: Kate Gardiner Photography/NASCAR

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Toby Christie is a contributing writer for Motorsports Tribune. He has been watching stock cars turn left since 1993, and has covered NASCAR as an accredited media member since 2007. Toby is a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA). Additionally, Toby is a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan, sub-par guitarist and he is pretty good around a mini-golf course.

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