Pending Free Agent Highlights Dark Horse Options for Sonoma Race

Matt DiBenedetto

Getty Matt DiBenedetto (left) races at Circuit of the Americas.

The NASCAR Cup Series season heads to the third of seven road courses on the schedule on Sunday, June 6. The drivers will compete at Sonoma Raceway, a California track where Martin Truex Jr. has three previous wins. However, Matt DiBenedetto serves as a dark horse option to post a top finish.

The driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford Mustang has five starts in his career at the California road course, both on the shortened and full-length versions. His first three outings were outside the top-20 while his fourth was a 17th-place finish. In 2019, however, DiBenedetto turned in a strong performance for Leavine Family Racing.

DiBenedetto started the June 2019 race 19th overall in the No. 95 Procore Thanks DW Throwback Toyota. However, he did not remain near the middle of the pack for very long. The Cup Series veteran raced his way to a fourth-place finish and racked up 33 points in the process. This finish was his first of three races inside the top-five during the 2019 season, which helped facilitate his move to Wood Brothers Racing in 2020.

DiBenedetto Sits Just Below the Playoff Cutoff Line

Matt DiBenedetto COTA

GettyMatt DiBenedetto prepares for a race in Austin.

A playoff driver for the first time in his career in 2020, DiBenedetto entered 2021 with raised expectations. This season is his final with Wood Brothers Racing due to the upcoming arrival of defending Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric. However, the final season before free agency is not playing out as many expected.

In 15 races, DiBenedetto has failed to reach Victory Lane. He has also dealt with numerous mechanical issues and other setbacks, resulting in five finishes outside the top-20. Though DiBenedetto did turn in top-five runs at Talladega and Kansas.

The regular season is more than halfway over, and the driver of the No. 21 has serious work to do. He is 17th in points, one spot below the cutoff line. Though Roush Fenway Racing’s Chris Buescher is only 55 points ahead of him. Buescher has a previous best finish of 12th place at Sonoma Raceway.

Kevin Harvick Seeks a Repeat of the 2017 Trip to Sonoma

DiBenedetto will not be the only underrated Mustang driver with the ability to win at the California road course. Kevin Harvick, the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang, is also in this group. The veteran has made 19 starts at Sonoma in his Cup Series career, a list that includes a win.

Back in 2017, SHR drivers showcased their skills on the road course in what was a tightly-contested contest. Truex led 25 laps, the most on the day, but he ended his day in the garage after engine issues. Harvick led the second-most laps (24) en route to the checkered flag. He held off a stacked field of talented drivers, including teammate and second-place finisher Clint Bowyer.

The other two SHR drivers — Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch — also turned in relatively strong performances at the road course. Busch finished seventh overall, one of 15 top-10 finishes on the season. Patrick ended the day 17th, just behind Joe Gibbs Racing’s Daniel Suarez.

Four years later, Harvick will strive for another top finish at Sonoma. He will have different teammates now that Patrick and Bowyer have both walked away from full-time racing. Busch now drives for Chip Ganassi Racing. Despite the changes, the goals remain the same. Harvick will seek his first win of 2021 and the opportunity to lock up a spot in the playoffs.

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