Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team recorded their sixth top-10 finish of 2020 with a strong sixth-place run in Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The finish means DiBenedetto remains 15th in the Playoff standings with six races remaining before the top 16 begin the 10-race, season-ending battle for the championship.
And the Motorcraft team now is within three points of being among the top 12 in the car owner points standings, which is important since those teams draw for the top 12 starting spots for the next race.
Sunday’s race on the one-mile oval in Loudon saw DiBenedetto start 19th in a line-up set by a draw.
He quickly began a march forward and was in 13th place when the competition caution flag flew at Lap 30. He moved up to sixth place for the restart due to the varying strategies employed by race teams and was inside the top five by Lap 40.
He was running fourth in the latter portions of Stage One, and set to collect Stage points, only to see the caution flag fly with 13 laps remaining.
After a trip to pit road he ended that 75-lap Stage in 15th place.
Throughout Stage Two, he worked his way forward again and ended that 110-lap segment in 10th place, earning one Stage point.
In the final third of the race DiBenedetto and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team worked their way into the top five and ran there until the final two laps, when Kevin Harvick, riding on fresher tires, relegated the No. 21 back to sixth place.
The race ended with an 83-lap green-flag run to the finish, which saw Ford drivers take six of the top eight finishing positions including the win by Brad Keselowski of Team Penske.
DiBenedetto said his crew chief Greg Erwin and the rest of the brain trust on the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team made all the right calls and adjustments to allow him to move up from 19th at the green flag to sixth at the finish of a relatively short race.
“From the start I knew we had a pretty good car,” DiBenedetto said. “It was a little loose at first but we tightened it up, which is a credit to Greg and the engineers. They did a good job on that.
“Once we got up there where we belonged, everything went ok. We got a little tight at the end, which hurt a little, but Harvick was coming pretty hard on fresher tires, and I couldn’t quite hold him off.”
DiBenedetto said he feels good about the upcoming races on the schedule.
“Back through Pocono, we’ve had cars that can run in the top five, but we had some bad luck for a couple of races,” he said, adding that the handling package run at New Hampshire and at several upcoming tracks really suits his style.
“The races with the 750-horsepower/low downforce rules are really fun to drive,” he said.
“And there are a lot of those races on the remainder of the schedule.”
DiBenedetto, who has a 40-point cushion on the Playoff bubble, said his goal for the next few weeks is to build up as many points as possible before the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway on Aug. 29.
“The thing that I worry about the most is I want as much cushion as humanly possible going to Daytona because that’s just a real crap shoot,” he said. “The more cushion we can have going to Daytona the better.”
Next up for DiBenedetto and the Motorcraft team is a double-header at Ford’s home track, Michigan International Speedway, on Saturday and Sunday.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!