After running in mid-pack for most of Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway, Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team worked on their Mustang, hit on some speed and surged forward to finish 10th. It was their second-straight top-10 and their 10th of 2020.
DiBenedetto started the 500-lapper at the Wood Brothers’ home track from 12th place, and ran mostly inside the top 15 for the first Stage before ending that run in 16th place.
In Stage Two, it was more of the same as he once again finished 16th.
Then, as the third segment of the race began to unfold, the situation began to improve. With 135 laps to go, DiBenedetto moved into 14th place. Three laps later he was 13th, and with 70 laps to go he was 12th.
With 47 laps remaining, he moved into the top 10 and except for a couple of exchanges, ran there until the checkered flag fell.
“We kind of missed it on the set-up,” DiBenedetto said. “There were some things we would have changed if we had practice, so we were kind of stuck with what we had.
“But, in what I’d call a “blue-collar day’ we worked on the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang, got it the best it could be and got a top-10 out of it.”
DiBenedetto said that’s what a good race team needs to do.
“When you can have what looks like it’s going to be a bad day and make a top-10 out of it, it shows the progress we’re making with this team,” he said. “We’re getting better.”
With Sunday’s race setting the field for the Championship Round of the Playoffs, DiBenedetto said he had to be careful racing around drivers trying to advance in the playoffs.
“I tried to be really aware of their situations,” he said, adding that there are risks to his team in racing around drivers in desperate circumstances. “I didn’t want to do something that would mess up our day, and I also didn’t want to interfere with the outcome of the playoff battle.”
The No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang did have some close calls, including one at the finish line when Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch spun as Harvick made a last-ditch attempt to secure a spot in the final four. DiBenedetto moved high, then low, to motor by Harvick and preserve his top-10 finish.
“There was a lot of smoke when I came off Turn Four, but I was able to get by him,” he said.
DiBenedetto and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team remain 14th in the Cup Series points standings, one point behind William Byron in 13th place and 11 points behind 12th-place Clint Bowyer.
The finish at Martinsville, specifically the runner-up run by Ryan Blaney, clinched the 2020 Manufacturers’ Championship for Ford Motor Company. It was Ford’s second crown in three years, and it’s the first for the Mustang since it joined the Cup Series last year. Mustang drivers have 18 wins so far this season and have one more chance in next Sunday’s season finale at Phoenix Raceway.
Eddie Wood said he salutes all the drivers and teams that were a part of the championship effort.
“It’s a great accomplishment, and with two Team Penske Mustang drivers in the Final Four at Phoenix, hopefully there will be another big trophy in the Ford camp a week from now,” he said.