Matt DiBenedetto and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team rallied from a mid-race incident that resulted in significant damage to the No. 21 Mustang and came home with a 12th place finish in Sunday’s Blue Emu 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
DiBenedetto started the 500-lap race from 22nd place on Saturday night, and had moved to 15th place when rain halted the race after just 42 circuits.
When rain continued into the night, the race was postponed until 4 p.m. on Sunday. When the action resumed, DiBenedetto and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team showed good speed and were running 13th at the end of the first 130-lap Stage.
In Stage Two, he continued to run just outside the top 10 until the closing laps when he was unable to avoid spinning drivers ahead of him. The contact crumpled the right front fender of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang, with damage also to the splitter and the front sway bar connection.
Quick work by the Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew led by Jonathan Hassler, filling in for Greg Erwin who contracted COVID-19, allowed DiBenedetto to rejoin the race in 26th place, just one lap down.
He drove his way into the free pass position and rejoined the lead lap when Kyle Busch and Chris Buescher spun as they raced beside him with 178 laps remaining in the race.
Back on the lead lap, he continued to work his way forward, and was able to avoid several accidents. He also steered clear of significant damage when 11 drivers piled up on the backstretch with 114 laps remaining, bringing out the red flag.
When the green flag was displayed again, DiBenedetto was able to move from 16th place to 12th at the checkered flag. It was his fourth straight top-15 finish.
“Our Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang was pretty good to start with,” DiBenedetto said. “It had a lot of potential. It could have been a pretty big day for us.”
Then came the damage.
“When Ryan Newman spun in front of me, I just didn’t have anywhere to go,” he said.
But what might have been a disappointing day turned into one to be proud of.
“To come from getting all that damage and losing a lap to getting the lucky dog [free pass] and getting back on the lead lap and finishing 12th was pretty impressive,” DiBenedetto said. “Nobody on the team gave up. Everyone just kept grinding away at it, and we wound up with a decent finish.”
Part of that success included DiBenedetto dodging numerous crashes, many of which occurred just ahead of or beside him.
“It went on the whole day,” he said. “I’m tired. We evaded enough for 10 races.”
Next up for DiBenedetto and the No. 21 team is a Sunday afternoon 400-lapper at Richmond Raceway.