Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team rallied from being one lap down early in Wednesday night’s Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway to take the checkered flag in seventh place.
It was the best Martinsville finish for DiBendetto in 11 career starts and the best for his Wood Brothers team at their home track since Ricky Rudd finished seventh in April, 2005.
DiBenedetto started the race from 19th place and began climbing through the field at a rapid clip.
He was up to seventh place by Lap 43 and in the top five by Lap 51. He was running fifth when the yellow flag was displayed for a competition caution at Lap 61.
He continued to run in the top 10 and ended the first 130-lap Stage in ninth place, earning two Stage points. It was the fourth-straight race and fifth in the past six that he scored Stage points.
DiBenedetto moved up to fifth place by staying on track during the first Stage break. He fell back over a long green-flag run but did hold off Corey LaJoie to take the free pass position at the end of Stage Two.
Back on the lead lap in 16th place, he worked his way back into the top 10 by Lap 344 and continued to advance until taking seventh place for good with just over 80 laps left to run.
He held that spot on to the checkered flag to move up two spots to 13th in the Cup Series standings.
“That was the goal,” DiBenedetto said of his finish. “The whole team did a good job and we had a good recovery at the end.”
He said the tire compound chosen by Goodyear made for an interesting race.
“We started out really fast, and the tire was so different,” he said. “It wore out a lot and made it challenging for everybody.”
DiBenedetto said that as he began to lose speed, crew chief Greg Erwin tried several minor adjustments to the car that didn’t produce the desired results then changed directions.
“Greg took a big swing at it and it really woke up the car,” he said. “He did a good job there going to something else and got us to where we needed to be.”
DiBenedetto said he and Erwin are building a good working relationship despite the challenges presented by the current Cup schedule.
“Without practice and us being a new team working together this year I really feel like we’re making big gains as far as our communication,” he said. “We’ve had some tough races, a little rough luck here and there, so just glad to click off a nice, solid points day.
“We’re getting better as a team and acclimated with each other more.”
DiBenedetto also acknowledged that he’s learned to be a better Martinsville racer.
“As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more disciplined,” he said. “I was very calm even when I was racing somebody hard or side-by-side with them,” he said. “I kept calm and minimized mistakes.
“I don’t think there was a scratch on the car at the end of the race, and that’s tough to do at Martinsville.”
DiBenedetto and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team return to the track on Sunday for the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.