Wood Brothers Racing’s Matt DiBenedetto turned in his best finish of the season on Sunday, taking fifth in the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. This finish kept him in contention for the NASCAR playoffs based on points, but served as a harsh reminder of the razor-thin edge separating a win from a top-five finish. Now he has responded to his late decisions.
DiBenedetto met with the media on Thursday morning to set the stage for Sunday’s trip to Kansas Speedway and his next opportunity to win a race. He explained that the No. 21 team is building momentum after a very rough start to the season and that they are “showing their strength” now as the playoff race heats up. The 29-year-old also revealed that he finally went back and watched the final restart from the Geico 500 in which he blocked Ryan Blaney, setting up Brad Keselowski for the win.
“Yeah, I finally pulled through and watched it,” DiBenedetto told the media members. He then continued and discussed what he could have done differently to potentially maintain his lead over Keselowski. “First thing is, am I beating myself up over it? No. Absolutely not. You have probably seen the video I put out on social media because people are talking about it, rightfully so.
“No, I’m not [beating myself up] because from my perspective, it could have just as well been the race-winning move if circumstances happened differently behind us with the eight car. And the 12 car got kind of shuffled, and the line broke apart.”
NASCAR drivers have to make split-second decisions each lap
While it would be easy for DiBenedetto to look back at his move to block Blaney instead of Keselowski, he explained that “hindsight is 20/20.” It’s very easy for him to examine all of his decisions after the race is over and he is back at home. The situation is very different when he is in the heat of the moment, surrounded by a multitude of race cars.
As DiBenedetto pointed out, the drivers have to make split-second decisions while traveling nearly 200 mph. Things are happening “at the snap of a finger,” forcing the drivers and spotters to work in tandem without causing a multi-car pile-up. They also have to contend with cars that are nowhere near them. DiBenedetto explained that drivers two or three cars away can create chain reactions that disrupt a good run.
An example of other cars causing issues at the snap of a finger are the final seconds of the Geico 500. Kaz Grala and Erik Jones jostled for position as the field came around the final turn at Talladega Superspeedway. Their cars made contact, sending Jones into the outside wall. His No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet nearly hit the rear of DiBenedetto’s No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford, missing it by the smallest of margins.
The No. 21 was far to the right of Jones and Grala, as well as a bit behind, but the collision nearly ruined his day. Instead, DiBenedetto continued moving forward and secured his first top-five of the season. The finish helped him rack up 42 points, as well as a playoff point for his Stage 1 win.
DiBenedetto will aim to keep the momentum at Kansas
With the Geico 500 behind him, DiBenedetto will now move forward toward the Buschy McBusch Race 400 at Kansas Speedway. This track requires a different type of preparation in that the No. 21 team has to focus on restarts and picking the best lane each time. There is inherently less chaos at the 1.5-mile track, and DiBenedetto has confidence in his team.
“That’s probably one of the strongest points in our program — the mile-and-a-halfs,” DiBenedetto told media members. “For whatever reason, our cars just run really well at those places. There are definitely some similarities in Kansas, Vegas, and places where we run really well.
“We have strong race cars pretty much everywhere, but we seem to have… I have a lot of confidence that we usually start with our setups pretty darn close. Our engineers and team start pretty close, and it’s nice that we have the track position to go along with that so we can start our day out front and be in front of the mess.
The Buschy McBusch Race 400 will take place Sunday at 3 p.m. ET with FS1 providing coverage. DiBenedetto will start the day in the fifth position after his performance in the Geico 500. Austin Dillon will join him on the third row as they both try to win their first races of the season.
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