Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team turned in another strong performance in the Sunday’s second half of a double-header at Pocono Raceway.
After finishing 13th and scoring 10 Stage points on Saturday, DiBenedetto and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team came back on Monday and scored eight more Stage points and finished sixth in the Pocono 350.
Sunday’s finish netted 41 points, the most DiBenedetto has earned in a race this season. He remains 14th in the Cup Series standings, but is just three points behind 13th-place Clint Bowyer and six back of 12th-place Jimmie Johnson.
DiBenedetto lined up eighth for the start of Sunday’s race and quickly drove his way into the top five then finished the first 30-lap Stage in sixth place, earning five Stage points.
In the second Stage, a 55-lapper, he ran in second or third place for much of the way, then made a pit stop from third place with 10 laps remaining in the Stage. Still, he drove his way back to ninth at the end of the Stage, earning two more points.
In the third and final segment of the race, he made his final pit stop with 38 laps remaining, taking two tires and fuel.
He rejoined the race and began working his way forward, gaining some spots through passes and others when drivers ahead of him made their last stops.
With 22 laps remaining, he was up to 15th place, and broke back into the top 10 six laps later. With four laps remaining, he took sixth place and held off William Byron and Clint Bowyer to claim his best Pocono finish in 12 career starts and his fourth top-10 finish of the season.
“We had great strategy from start to finish,” DiBenedetto said of the plans formulated by crew chief Greg Erwin. “We followed Greg’s plan and it worked out even better than we thought.”
DiBenedetto said he and Erwin figured that making a pit stop just before the end of the second Stage would set them up better for the finish but cost them some Stage points, but that wasn’t the case.
“We thought we’d be sacrificing Stage points, but we had a good pit stop and had a solid restart and grabbed a couple of points.”
DiBenedetto said his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang was fast and his crew was on their game.
“We had a top-10 car all day long,” he said. “Everything was really smooth. Everybody executed well, and it was just a good, solid day.”
He said the weekend’s performance at Pocono has him and the team feeling upbeat as they head to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“We’ve known we can do this,” he said, adding that he, Erwin and the crew have been working on their communication and on being more consistent in their on-track performance. “I think this weekend was an example of what we’ve been working on and knowing that we’re capable of doing is addressing that and just having solid days like we did today being in the top 10 from the start to the finish of the day, getting stage points and finishing up there.
“We’ve done a good job at working on that and I think we can do a lot more of this moving forward.”
Next up for DiBenedetto and the No. 21 team is the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard on July 5.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!