In his second ride in the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang, Matt DiBenedetto finished second in the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, tying his best career Cup finish and posting his first-ever top-10 on an intermediate track.
“This is all just too surreal,” a beaming DiBenedetto said in a televised post-race interview.
“Tough to be that close, but, hey, this is only the second race of the season.”
“It was the strength of this team. It's so cool to have the backing of all the people that allow me to drive this thing. It took so many people, Motorcraft, Quick Lane.”
DiBenedetto also gave a shout out to Paul Menard, who drove the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 for the past two seasons and selected DiBenedetto to be his replacement when he decided to retire.
“Paul, I know you're watching at home and proud and I can't thank everyone in that whole family for this opportunity.”
DiBenedetto also expressed his appreciation to the Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew and to the people who supply his horsepower.
“I'm proud to have that Roush Yates power under the hood,” he said. “This whole team, [crew chief] Greg Erwin, all of them, we were covered. It wasn't pretty at the start, but, man, they did an excellent job.
“So happy to be working with this team, the fans. Thank you all so much. The journey has been pretty cool.”
DiBenedetto started 19th, with the line-up set by 2019 car owner points after qualifying was rained out Saturday afternoon. He steadily worked his way forward, his No. 21 Mustang driving progressively better after each adjustment on pit road.
He broke into the top 10 for the first time with 87 laps remaining, and steadily moved forward.
DiBenedetto made his final pit stop on Lap 163, but a caution flag before the cycle of pit stops could be concluded put him a lap down. Running in 11th place, he took the wave-around to rejoin the leaders and then resumed his march forward.
He took seventh place with 35 laps remaining and was running there when the caution flag flew for a spin by Ross Chastain.
Erwin elected to stay on the track when most of the leaders pitted, a decision that put the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang in third place when the green flag flew with two laps remaining.
DiBenedetto, despite having older tires than many of the drivers behind him, moved into second place and was running there when the caution flag flew just after the leaders took the white flag, freezing the field at that point. He said his team’s speed and improvement as the race went along came as no surprise.
“I knew the team has every bit of that capability,” he said. “They’re so good with Greg Erwin leading these guys. This team is phenomenal. There’s no doubt about that.”
DiBenedetto did acknowledge having a few worries early in the 400.
“It wasn’t a picture-perfect day,” he said. “We had to make huge adjustments and our communication was great from me screaming really loose and us being off to start and then dialing it in little by little every pit stop, and then getting it there at the end where I was comfortable staying out because I knew the car had great speed.”
“It was best on the long runs and we just needed a little track position because we were a little stuck in the dirty air.”
He said the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team’s performance at Las Vegas gives him optimism moving forward.
“We didn’t start off great,” he said. “But it’s good to know that we can close, make the right adjustments, do all the right things, my pit crew can do an excellent job – all the things that tie a race together.”
DiBenedetto and the No. 21 team now move to Auto Club Speedway in California for next Sunday’s Auto Club 400.