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Kickin The Tires

DiBenedetto stuck with top-10 at Pocono

Photo by NKP / NKP Photo

By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer

Despite the speed of his Ford Mustang, Matt DiBenedetto was forced to leave Pocono Raceway with just a top-10 finish.

The Finish

When the driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford Mustang pitted for the final time, he rejoined the race behind Aric Almirola. The duo had been well within the top-five prior to the pit stops. Afterward, Almirola was fifth with DiBenedetto sixth.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver chased down his fellow Ford Performance competitor. However, DiBenedetto could not break through the bubble of air behind the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang. For several laps, he struggled to slip by to no avail. When the checkered flag waved, he found himself sixth, despite his speed.

“I caught the 10 in the end for fifth by about four or five tenths of a second a lap,” stated DiBenedetto. “I was so fast, but you just get stuck in the dirty air now. The high downforce makes it so tough to pass. It just makes it tough on the crew chiefs, teams, pit crews because you have to have the strategy, or else you can’t make your way up there.”

Using the same strategy on Saturday, DiBenedetto finished 13th in the Pocono Organics 325.

Stages

DiBenedetto finished inside the top-10 in both stages of the Pocono 350. The NASCAR Cup Series driver picked up seven points from the two stages adding to his cushion as the regular season winds down.

“We got stage points in all four races between the two races and that’s good,” explained DiBenedetto. “I feel like we finished solid yesterday. We had a good day. Today was pretty smooth from start to finish. I was up there in the top-10 from start to finish. Greg (Erwin) and the team did a good job keeping me up there with a real good strategy.

“It’s definitely a big deal, a way to rack up some points. I’ve had some unfortunate luck, bad races recently. We fell back in points, further back than we should be than what we feel like as a team. It’s time to start climbing back up there and this weekend was an example of that.

“Stage points can make such a huge difference, especially at this point of the year. You’ve got to take everything you can get because it makes a huge difference in terms of securing a solid spot in the playoffs.”

In Saturday’s race, DiBenedetto earned 10 stage points. Combined, he earned 17 stage points over the course of the weekend. Only a handful of drivers earned more stage points between the two races.

Darkness

As the Pocono 350 reached the closing laps, the possibility of the race being shortened by darkness increased. As the sun set however, conditions improved for the drivers. An already dicey turn two transitioned to one blinded by the sun and then clear once the sun set.

“It was actually better when it started getting darker,” a surprised DiBenedetto said. “The Tunnel Turn makes you white-knuckle it already. It’s one of the most hairy corners of all of NASCAR when you can see. So, with the sun in your eyes, it was one of the most petrifying experiences that I’ve had to deal with.

“I’m just glad that we got the race in. I’m glad to see the sun at a NASCAR race, but when it got dark it was actually better and easier to see.”

While the NASCAR on FOX broadcast appeared bright, conditions at the track were darker. When DiBenedetto and others pitted, the crews were using headlamps in their helmets to improve visibility.

Stats

The sixth-place finish is the fourth top-10 finish for DiBenedetto this season. It is also the 15th of his Cup Series career.

“When you’re a new team it takes a little while to figure each other out, get this 21 car to where it can be up front every week,” admitted DiBenedetto. “I think we’re stepping in that direction. To be honest, every single racetrack that we’ve been to, except for Darlington, we’ve had top-10 speed.

“I’ve never had equipment or opportunity like that. That’s the encouraging part, so once we got on track I knew that we could do this very consistently.”

The top-10 keeps the Grass Valley, CA native 14th in the points standings, 43-points ahead of the cutoff, held by Erik Jones. DiBenedetto is 197-points behind leader Kevin Harvick.

Next for DiBenedetto is the Big Machine Vodka 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, July 5. He scored one of his 15 top-10 finishes at the historic 2.5-mile track. DiBenedetto is still chasing his first victory, as well as the 100th for the legendary Wood Brothers Racing.

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