Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Menards/Monster Energy Mustang wound up with a disappointing 20th-place finish in the opening race of a Cup Series double-header at Dover International Speedway on Saturday.
But he and the team have reasons to be optimistic heading into Sunday’s second half of the twin bill, which will see the Monster Energy logos on the hood of the No. 21 Ford replaced by the colors of Richmond Water Heaters.
For starters, DiBenedetto and the team will carry a 27-point cushion over the Playoff cutline into Sunday’s 311-mile race. And due to a starting line-up set by inverting the top-20 finishers from Saturday’s race, they’ll take the green flag from the pole on Sunday.
Recent history is on their side as well. In the three double-headers run already this season, DiBenedetto and the Menards/Richmond team have significantly improved their finishing positions from the first race to the second. At Darlington, a 14th-place finish in the opener was followed by a ninth-place run. At Pocono they went from 13th to sixth, and at Michigan they improved from 15th to seventh.
Dover’s 311-mile opener saw DiBenedetto start from 14th place and move up to 11th in the opening laps, but he soon found himself dealing with a loose handling condition.
The Menards/Monster Energy team made adjustments, but the handling issues went to the other extreme, with the car becoming too tight.
With no caution flags after Lap Eight other than for the Competition Caution and for the end of the two Stages, the only opportunities to make major adjustments to the No. 21 Mustang were during green-flag pit stops. And the lack of caution flag also took away chances to play pit strategies to get back to the front.
“With it being a short race and no yellow flags, we were kind of stuck with what we had,” Eddie Wood said. “The good thing is they can work on the car before tomorrow’s race and we’ll get another chance to try to gain some points going into Daytona, where anything can happen.”
After Sunday’s Drydene 311 at Dover, only the Aug. 29 race at Daytona International Speedway is left to run before the start of the 10-race Playoffs.
Sunday’s race at Dover is scheduled to start just after 4 p.m. Eastern Time with TV coverage on NBCSN.