Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Menards/Dutch Boy team had some good luck and some bad in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, but in the end, not enough good fortune to advance to the Round of 12 in the Cup Series Playoffs.
DiBenedetto started Saturday’s 500-lapper, the final race in the first Playoff round, from 16th place. He moved up to 12th place then took the lead by taking just two tires during a caution period at Lap 30. He ran among the top five for more than 60 laps, but the caution flag he needed for the two-tire strategy to work never flew. At a disadvantage tire-wise, he ended the Stage in 12th place.
DiBenedetto and the Menards/Dutch Boy team again experienced equal doses of good and bad luck in the second Stage. On the 61st lap of the second Stage, DiBenedetto had to make a green-flag pit stop because of a loose wheel.
He rejoined the race in 29th place, three laps down, but good luck was riding with him. His fresher tires allowed him to regain one of the laps under the green flag, then he regained another lap by taking the wave-around when fellow Playoff driver William Byron wrecked in the closing laps of that Stage. Then when the caution flag flew to end the stage, DiBenedetto was in the free pass position and was able to return to the lead lap for the start of the final segment of the race.
A penalty for speeding on pit road sent him to the rear of the field for the restart, but he worked his way forward and was running seventh, a lap down, with less than 100 laps to go.
Still, the win he needed to advance in the Playoffs remained a long shot. DiBenedetto held his position until the bad luck returned in the form of a cut tire with just under 10 laps remaining.
A green-flag pit stop put him back three laps and left him with a 19th-place finish and elimination from the Playoffs.
DiBenedetto said after the race that the team’s perseverance at Bristol gives him hope for a strong finish to the 2020 season.
“Tonight shows the fight that we have as a team, rebounding like that,” he said. “I just hate that we miss the next round.
“We had some not-so-good races, bad luck tonight, you name it, but we’ve got a lot of season left. We still have a lot of positions in points to fight for, and we have fast race cars like you see tonight, so we still have a lot of stuff left and hopefully a lot of good things to come.”
Eddie Wood said it just wasn’t in the cards for his family team to advance in the Playoffs.
“It was a long shot going into Bristol,” he said. “We ran pretty good. The car was tight early in the race, but adjustments got it better.
“We needed some luck on our side and got some at times in the race. But luck goes both ways and we saw that with a cut tire at the end.
“We’ll move on and make the most of these next seven races.”
DiBenedetto and the No. 21 team now head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where they finished second earlier this season.