A caution flag near the end of Sunday’s Go Bowling 235 on the road course at Daytona International Speedway gave Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Menards/Dutch Boy team the break they needed to finish 15th and head to Dover International Speedway with a 44-point cushion in the Playoff standings.
DiBenedetto, who added six points to his total by finishing fifth in the race’s first Stage, remains 15th in the Playoff standings with three races left in the regular season – two at Dover and one on the oval track at Daytona. After that, the top 16 drivers in the Playoff standings will start the 10-race, season-ending run for the Cup Series championship.
On a steamy hot Sunday afternoon at Daytona, DiBenedetto and the Menards/Dutch Boy Mustang lined up ninth for the start of the inaugural Cup race on the 3.6-mile road course.
He moved up to sixth place by Lap Six and to fifth place by Lap 12 and remained there until the end of the first 15-lap Stage.
Because he made his pit stop after at the end of the first Stage, while others gained track position by making their stops before the end of Stage One, DiBenedetto and the Menards/Dutch Boy team were playing catch-up for most of the second Stage and wound up 21st at the finish.
In the third and final segment of the race, DiBenedetto and the team struggled to find the rear grip he needed, and were running 18th when the caution flag flew with five laps remaining for a spin by Kyle Busch.
DiBenedetto and the Menards/Dutch Boy team opted to head to pit road for fresh tires and one final adjustment, which put him 23rd in line for a three-lap dash to the checkered flag.
As he often does on restarts, DiBenedetto made the most of the moment and gained eight spots before he crossed the finish line.
DiBenedetto said the Menards/Dutch Boy Mustang just didn’t have the speed he needed to stay among the leaders.
“We struggled all day and had to play defense the whole race,” he said.
DiBenedetto had no complaints about the race course itself. “It was fun, and I would love to do it again,” he said.
Eddie Wood said that while he and the team had hoped for a better finish at Daytona he’s pleased to have some breathing room headed into the Dover double-header. DiBenedetto and the team were 57 points ahead of the 17th place driver headed into Daytona and saw that margin shrink by 13 points.
“We lost some points to the cutline, but we’re still in a decent spot,” he said. “With two races at Dover and one at Daytona, all of the teams competing for those final Playoff spots won’t feel really safe until the checkered flag flies at Daytona in two weeks.”