A late-race charge following a pit stop propelled Matt DiBenedetto and his No. 21 NewFordTech.com Mustang to a seventh-place finish in Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway. It was DiBenedetto’s seventh top-10 finish of the season, and coupled with the seven points he earned from a fourth-place finish in Stage One, he now has a 57-point cushion in the Playoff standings with four regular-season races left before the start of the Playoffs.
DiBenedetto started Sunday’s 312-mile race from sixth place as the line-up was set by a partial inversion of the finishing order from Saturday’s race at Michigan, where he finished 15th.
Taking advantage of the track position he started with and some major overnight adjustments to the NewFordTech.com Mustang, DiBenedetto quickly drove up to third place then ended the first 40-lap Stage in fourth place, earning seven points.
In Stage Two he dropped out of the top 10, finishing in 12th place, but was soon back in the top 10. He raced his way back up to third place but had dropped back to 10th place when the race’s final caution flag flew with 19 laps remaining.
DiBenedetto was one of two drivers in the top 20 to head to pit road, and he fell back in line in 19th place then moved up six spot by taking the less-preferred inside line when it came time to choose. When the green flag dropped to start a 15-lap dash to the finish, DiBenedetto used his skills in traffic on restarts to quickly gobble up seven more positions before eventually losing one, which left him in seventh place.
DiBenedetto said he and crew chief Greg Erwin could never get the NewFordTech.com Mustang handling just like he wanted, but they kept working at it and made the most of the day.
“We were really struggling [Saturday], and our team worked super-hard and made some good improvements so we could at least run further up there,” he said. “We didn’t play a lot of defense all day and had to drive the thing for all it was worth…
“We hung tough. We had a monster restart there at the end and were able to drive our way up there and get a good finish.
“It felt really good to get to go on offense there at the end.”
DiBenedetto said he likes NASCAR’s new choose rule, which has been implemented at tracks other than road courses and superspeedways. It lets drivers choose which lane they will be in for restarts.
DiBenedetto said that after studying the way the choosing works, he’s decided to let his spotter Doug Campbell make the call on which lane to choose.
“It puts a lot of pressure on Doug, but I feel better with that decision in his hands,” he said.
DiBenedetto also said he’s cautiously optimistic about his Playoff chances but knows there is a lot of racing left in the regular season.
“You always want more points,” he said. “I feel good about how we’ve been running. We’ve been racking up some solid points, but you never know what can happen in these races.
“If we keep on doing what we’re doing, hopefully the rest will take care of itself.”
DiBenedetto and the No. 21 team return to work next Sunday for the first-ever Cup Series race on the road course at Daytona International Speedway.