Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team are headed to Pocono Raceway this weekend for a rare Cup Series double-header. They will run the Pocono Organics 325 on Saturday afternoon then return Sunday for the Pocono 350. Both races will be full points-paying events.
DiBenedetto has 10 career starts at Pocono but will be making his first appearance there in the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang.
“Pocono used to be one of my favorite tracks,” he said. “It’s so unique, and we used to shift gears every lap.”
These days, he said, things are different with the new handling package and its lower horsepower requirement.
“Now you get everything you can get on the restarts,” he said. “You go banzai for the first few turns, then everything single-files out.”
He said that when you’re running anywhere other than in the lead, it’s a struggle, aerodynamically speaking.
“You battle dirty air more at Pocono than at any other track except Indianapolis,” he said.
“You have to really attack the restarts. Track position means everything.
“That puts a lot of pressure on me and on the crew to execute on the pit stops and restarts.”
Pocono, with its relatively low banking and long distance (2.5 miles), offers opportunities for fuel-mileage strategies, and the Wood Brothers team historically has been adept at taking advantage of those situations.
DiBenedetto, although a newcomer to the team, is well aware of the possibilities Pocono presents.
“The track is so big and so long that you can make a green-flag pit stop and not lose a lap,” he said. “Even if the caution comes out, you can stay out and gain track position.
“And the crew can crunch the numbers and treat the races there like a road course.”
He doesn’t expect the shorter length of the races this weekend will change how teams plan their pit stops.
“I think the strategies will be the same,” he said.
And DiBenedetto said running two Pocono races in two days won’t be too physically taxing.
“That part will be fun,” he said. “The races aren’t super long. I should be able to recover physically and get rehydrated.”
The real test, he said, will be for the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team, which has to take the Mustang they race on Saturday and in a short time prepare in for Sunday’s race.
“That part will be a good test for our team,” he said.
There will be no practice or qualifying for either race.
The Pocono Organics 325 is set to start just after 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, with TV coverage on FOX. Sunday’s Pocono 350 is scheduled to get the green flag at 4 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on FOX Sports 1.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!