After showing seventh- to 11th-place speed for the second half of Sunday’s Folds of Honor/QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the track’s notorious tire wear caught up with Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Menards/Knauf team and left them with a 25th-place finish.
DiBenedetto took the green flag from 21st place after the line-up was set by a modified draw for position.
He immediately began working his way forward despite a loose handling condition, lost the lead lap at one point, but was running in the free pass position when the caution flag flew at Lap 96 for a spin by John Hunter Nemechek.
Back on the lead lap, DiBenedetto drove up to 14th place at the end of the first 105-lap stage.
Throughout Stage Two, he continued his forward progress and cracked the top 10 for the first time on Lap 115. He continued to advance and ended the second stage in seventh place, earning four stage points.
It was the third straight race in which the Menards/Knauf team has earned stage points.
DiBenedetto continued to run in the top 10 through the third and final stage of the 325-lap race, which ran the entire 108 laps without a caution flag.
The excessive tire wear caused by Atlanta’s 33-year-old asphalt led to an unscheduled stop for fresh rubber with just over 60 laps left to run. The team had intended to run about 10 more laps before stopping.
But 60-plus laps on a set of tires is a bridge too far at a place like Atlanta. Nonetheless, DiBenedetto was running good lap times and hanging on to 11th place until there were just seven laps remaining.
Tire issues again sent him to pit road under the green flag, and he dropped to 25th at the finish.
Eddie Wood said a team has few options once it gets off sequence due to an unscheduled pit stop in a race with few caution flags.
“You have to run farther because you stop earlier, and you’re hoping for a caution flag so you can get tires,” he said. “But with no cautions, you’re in a box where you just have to go for it, and that’s what we did.”
DiBendetto dropped two spots to 15th in the Cup Series standings heading into Wednesday night’s Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at the Wood Brothers’ home track, Martinsville Speedway.