By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
A reversal of fortune took place for Matt DiBenedetto at Atlanta Motor Speedway after an atrocious start to the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season.
In the first four races of the season, the Wood Brothers Racing driver encountered atrocious luck. DiBenedetto was swept up in the big one in the Daytona 500, cut a tire early at the Daytona Road Course, and finished outside the top-15 in the next two races. The turn-around for the veteran driver came at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“It started at Las Vegas,” DiBenedetto explained. “We had a great car there. Since then we’ve had some well-prepared cars and some good, solid races.”
In the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, DiBenedetto ran up front throughout much of the race. As Kyle Larson’s torrid pace put many a lap down, the Grass Valley, Calif. native held station inside the top-five. A flawless green flag pit stop for the No. 21 Menards / Maytag Ford Mustang team kept DiBenedetto inside the top-10.
As the 101-lap green flag run to the finish came to a close, DiBenedetto faded. He slipped toward the back half of the top-10 in the final laps. On the final lap, Kevin Harvick snuck but for 10th, dropping DiBenedetto to 11th when the checkered flag waved.
“We had a solid race from start to finish with our Menards/Maytag Mustang,” DiBenedetto said. “Our pit crew did a great job keeping our track position, which took some hard work on their part, and we were able to get some Stage points, which was good.
“We got a little loose at the start of the third Stage, and that may have cost us a spot or two, but we had a 10th place car pretty much all day, then gained some track position that got us further up for a while. Overall, it was a solid day. I can’t complain.”
In Stage 2, DiBenedetto spent much of the run inside the top-five. He battled with William Byron throughout the Stage for fifth. When the green-white checkered flag waved to signal the end of the Stage, Byron edged DiBenedetto at the line for fifth. The 29-year-old earned an additional five points for his sixth-place Stage finish.
The 11th-place finish marked a continued resurgence for DiBenedetto and the Wood Brothers. In every race since the Daytona Road Course, he’s improved his finishing position.
The finish also moved DiBenedetto up from 28th in the points standings to 24th. He is 51-points behind the cutoff for the playoffs, currently held by Chris Buescher. DiBenedetto is 184-points behind leader Denny Hamlin.
Feature Photo Credit: Jerry Jordan / Kickin’ the Tires