Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Menards/Dutch Boy head to Daytona International Speedway with a Playoff berth on the line in Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400.
DiBenedetto is 15th in the Playoff standings with just a nine-point cushion on the cutoff line for being one of the 16 drivers who will start the 10-race, season-ending run for the 2020 Cup Series championship.
Races at Daytona and its sister track, Talladega Superspeedway, often are affected by “Big One” multi-car crashes, and surprise winners aren’t really that surprising given the uncertainties that come with racing in large packs at high speeds.
DiBenedetto said that given the Playoff implications, this Saturday night’s 400-miler likely will be even more of a crap shoot than usual.
“If I was a guessing man I would say probably quite a bit more chaotic and a whole lot of desperation because this is the last attempt or opportunity for a whole lot of people to make the Playoffs,” he said. “A lot of people can win at Daytona, so I would assume it might be quite chaotic.”
In his only start on the superspeedway at Daytona in the No. 21 Mustang, DiBenedetto showed that he and the team are capable of doing what he needs to do to earn a Playoff berth.
For 185 of the scheduled 200 laps of this year’s Daytona 500, he ran in the top five at times, then backed off when the bumping and blocking got especially aggressive.
But before he could make it to the checkered flag, he was swept up in a 19-car crash on the backstretch. He was able to return to the race and salvage a 19th-place finish, but that’s the kind of outcome he’s hoping to avoid this time around.
“We will have to go to Daytona and do the best job we can,” he said, adding that he will be relying on his fellow Mustang drivers to work with him in the draft. “We have really good teammates, and the Fords are fast.”
Avoiding the expected chaos will be the challenge, and sometimes that is more a matter of matter of luck than skill at tracks like Daytona and Talladega.
“Sometimes it doesn’t really matter how smart you race and what you do and all the things you do right, even if you are running first or second,” DiBenedetto said. “A lot that is out of your hands at those places.”
There will be no practice or qualifying prior to the start of Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400, which is set to get the green flag just after 7:30 p.m., with TV coverage on NBC.