When Matt DiBenedetto travels to Darlington Raceway for Sunday’s resumption of the NASCAR Cup Series season he’ll be doing it much like old-school race fans have done over the years.
Due to conditions placed on the event because of concerns of spreading COVID-19, DiBenedetto and his fellow drivers will drive themselves to the track and basically quarantine themselves until they strap in for the start of the 400-mile race.
Just as old-school fans who packed a picnic lunch and fired up the ol’ hotrod for the trip to NASCAR’s original superspeedway, DiBenedetto plans to take his favorite street ride – a blue 2020 Ford Mustang GT – and a cooler full of goodies prepared by his wife Taylor.
“I’m going to enjoy driving down there,” DiBenedetto said, adding that since he doesn’t have a motorcoach, he’ll hang out in and around his Mustang before he takes the wheel of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang. “I’ll eat a couple of sandwiches and do some stretching to be sure I’m ready to race.”
For Sunday’s race, and three of the next four Cup races, there will be no practice and no qualifying – just line up and race. The starting field for Sunday will be set by a modified random draw. The No. 21 team, which is ninth in Cup points, will join the other teams in the top 12 in points for a draw for the top 12 starting positions. The rest of the field will be set in a similar fashion.
DiBenedetto said he’s not worried about the entire field barreling off into Turn One at the Track Too Tough to Tame without a single lap of practice.
“Call me crazy, but I think that will be pretty cool,” he said. “It’ll be a fun opportunity to fire off cold turkey, especially at Darlington, one of the toughest places we go to.
“It’ll be a neat story that we can tell the rest of our lives.”
DiBenedetto said he believes his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang will be in the ballpark, handling-wise, when the race starts. The team has data from previous races to use in setting up the car.
“I have so much confidence in my team,” he said. “They are so good.”
He did say that he expects the competition to be stiff, even at the start of the race.
“People will give each other some room, but they will still be pretty aggressive,” DiBenedetto said. “With the higher downforce package we’re running, passing cars in dirty air is difficult.
“Starts and restarts are where you make up the most ground.”
DiBenedetto has made five career Cup starts at Darlington, with a best finish of eighth in his most recent appearance there.
Sunday’s race, the fifth of 2020, is set to get the green flag just after 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time with TV coverage on FOX.