Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team fought hard from start to finish of Sunday’s Cookout Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway but ended up with a 21st-place finish.
Driving a Mustang with a paint scheme based on the 1963 1/2 Galaxie Fastback that the Wood Brothers used to win the 1963 Cup Series Owners title, Benedetto took the green flag the first race of the 2020 Cup Series playoffs from ninth place.
It was evident from the start that the handling was off on his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang.
“If there ever was a place where having no practice would bite us, we found it,” DiBenedetto said. “We started the race and were out in left field, not even close, no grip.
“We had to make big adjustments on every stop.”
Throughout the first two thirds of the race, DiBenedetto ran outside the top 20 and had to drive hard to remain on the lead lap.
But he and the No. 21 team never gave up, and midway through the race’s third and final stage, he began working his way forward, moving into the top 20 on Lap 264 of 367.
DiBenedetto continued to advance through the field, but luck was not on his side. Crew chief Greg Erwin opted for a one-pit-stop strategy for the final stage and the move was within a few laps of working out in the team’s favor when a caution flag for debris spoiled that plan.
“Finally late in the third stage, we got it driving OK, and could have salvaged something out of it,” DiBenedetto said. “When we finally had a glimpse of hope, a poorly timed caution flag came out and ruined it for us.”
Forced to take the wave-around to stay on the lead lap, DiBenedetto had to try to make the most of a set of older tires on a track notorious for its tire wear.
He wound up 21st, with just two Playoff drivers behind him and leaves Darlington 15th in the Playoff standings.
On the positive side, he’s headed to Richmond Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway, the two remaining tracks in the first round of the Playoffs.
DiBenedetto is expecting much better results going forward.
“I’m bummed about the lack of points we got at Darlington, but I’m excited about the next two tracks,” he said.