Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Red Kap/Menards Ford Mustang ran among the top 10 – and often among the top five – in Sunday’s Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before a last-lap crash dropped him to 19th at the finish.
But the 11 Stage points he earned allowed him to move up two spots in the points standings to 12th place, which means he’ll get to draw for one of the top-12 starting positions for next Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
Sunday’s race started late due to lightning in the area, but when the green flag dropped, DiBenedetto quickly moved up from his 15th starting position.
He had moved into ninth place when the yellow flag flew for a competition caution period at Lap 12.
The Red Kap/Menards crew opted for a two-tire change, so DiBenedetto moved up to sixth place for the restart and ran in the top 10 until the end of the first 50-lap Stage, where he finished seventh and earned four Stage points.
He stayed on the track during the ensuing caution period and restarted in third place. A lap after the green flag flew he moved into second place, ran there for several laps and then was running third when he pitted for tires and fuel during a caution period at Lap 77.
Back under way he ran in the top five for the remainder of the second Stage and finished that segment in fourth place, earning seven more Stage points.
After another pit stop, DiBenedetto restarted the race’s final segment in 12th place but quickly worked his way back into the top 10. He took four more fresh tires on a stop at Lap 134 and rejoined the race in ninth place.
He was running seventh when race leader Denny Hamlin blew a tire and crashed while leading with six laps to go.
That set up an overtime run to the finish. DiBenedetto and Austin Dillon were battling for sixth place on the last lap when contact sent them both spinning, dropping Dillon to 18th and DiBenedetto to 19th.
“We had a good run all day,” DiBenedetto said. “The car was solid all day, and the race was dependent all on track position with this high-downforce racing.”
He said he hated that he couldn’t close out an otherwise exceptional day with a top-10 finish.
“On the last lap I got under the 3 car [Austin Dillon] getting into Turn Three,” DiBenedetto said. “He just didn’t quite give me enough room getting in the corner, and we got together, unfortunately.
“The Stage points saved us.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!