Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang had the speed to race in the top ten and contend for a win at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.
But after dodging several earlier incidents, including one on Lap 220 in which he had to drive part of the way into the grass to avoid spinning cars around him, DiBenedetto’s No. 21 Mustang received damage when a rookie driver made an unexpected move to pit road.
DiBenedetto wound up with a disappointing 17th-place finish, but remains in 12th place in the Cup Series standings. That allows him to be among the drivers who draw for the top 12 starting spots for Thursday night’s race at Kansas Speedway. And he’s now 51 points ahead of 17th place in the Cup Series standings, with eight regular season races remaining before the top 16 drivers start the 10-race Playoffs.
DiBenedetto ran in the top 10 for most of Sunday’s 500 miler, finishing 11th in the first Stage and 13th in the second, but moved into the top five as the third segment of the race began to unfold.
He pitted from the lead with 43 laps remaining and was poised to rejoin the top five when that round of green-flag pit stops cycled through.
But with 24 laps to go, and several leaders yet to pit, contact at the entrance to pit road sent DiBenedetto back to the crew for repairs, which kept him from taking the wave-around at that point.
DiBenedetto and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew continued the battle, and were in the free pass position when the caution flag flew with 16 laps remaining.
He rejoined the field in 19th place and regained two more spots to finish 17th.
“Obviously we were hoping for more, but it could have been a lot worse,” Eddie Wood said of his team’s result at Texas. “Matt drove a smart race. [Crew chief] Greg [Erwin] made good calls from the pit box, and the pit stops were really good.”
“Because some of those around us in the points standings had troubles too, it wasn’t as damaging as it might have been.”
Wood said he remains optimistic heading into the upcoming races.
“When a car has the speed ours has had in the past few races, things have a way of working out for the good,” he said. “Our team will move on to Kansas and get back to work there.”