Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Menards/Quaker State Ford Mustang qualified 12th fastest at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday as Fords swept eight of the top 15 starting spots for Sunday’s Auto Club 400.
“I held it wide open and didn’t lift,” DiBenedetto told reporters at Auto Club after his qualifying run. “That is good.”
He pointed out that the Menards team’s main goal on Saturday was to have a Mustang that would be fast in the race, not just for one lap in time trials.
“Qualifying is just different because it isn’t like before where we would go and see what kind of lap we could lay down,” he said. “It is different because we hold it wide open and we are not quite trimmed out, so we aren’t really shooting for the pole, so it kind of changes the game.
“It is weird to have the odd situation where you could easily just set your car up to go out and get the pole, it wouldn’t be hard. We would trim the car out, trim the body out and go get the pole, but then you sacrifice raceability.
“It kind of stinks from a drivers perspective because you want to go compete for the pole but the game has changed with the new package in 2019 and you have to figure out what you really want, what is important, starting position versus raceability in your car.
“That is most people’s focus.”
DiBenedetto and the Menards/Quaker State Mustang have shown good speed all weekend on the two-mile track in Fontana, Calif.
He was fifth fastest in the opening round of practice on Friday with a best lap at 176.609 miles per hour. He was ninth fastest in the final “Happy Hour” session with a best lap at 175.396 mph. His qualifying lap at 178.094 mph was his fastest lap so far this weekend.
The Auto Club 400 is set to get the green flag just after 12:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m. Eastern Time) with TV coverage on FOX.