Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Menards/Richmond team finished 17th in Sunday’s second half of a Cup Series twin bill at Dover International Speedway, and that leaves them with a slim nine-point cushion over the Playoff cutline with one regular season race left to run.
DiBenedetto and the No. 21 team enter Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway 15th in the Playoff standings, just ahead of Jimmie Johnson and William Byron. Only one of the three of them is assured of a Playoff spot because any driver behind them in the standings but in the top 30 in points could win at Daytona and claim one of the two Playoff spots that remain up in play.
"I am going to sit and hope and pray all week that we can just come out of there clean and make the Playoffs," DiBenedetto said. We shouldn’t be this close to the bubble. It is frustrating."
At Dover, DiBenedetto and the Menards/Richmond Mustang started Sunday’s Drydene 311 from the pole, as the line-up was set by inverting the top 20 finishing positions from Saturday’s race. He led the first 11 laps, but due to a loose handling condition was unable to maintain his spot at the head of the field. Still, he was able to finish the first Stage in seventh place and earn four bonus points.
From that point on, DiBenedetto and the team struggled to find grip, and he ended the second Stage in 16th place.
In the final segment of the race, he essentially maintained his position in the running order. Although he fell a lap off the pace as the laps wound down, he took the wave-around during the race’s final caution period and regained the lost lap. Despite riding on older tires, he was able to maintain his spot until the checkered flag.
DiBenedetto said he’ll do what he can at Daytona to get the No. 21 team in the Playoffs.
"I have done a lot of superspeedway races, and I feel like I race really smart at them but it won’t help the fact that there are just so many variables at those places that you can’t control," he said. "It is not the same kind of racing as anywhere else we go.
"I would say the thing that pays off the most at Daytona is luck."
Eddie Wood said that while he and his team didn’t come out of Dover with the results they’d hoped for, he did have reason to celebrate after Sunday’s race because Kevin Harvick delivered Ford Motor Company its 700th Cup Series victory.
"We’re happy for Kevin and the folks at Stewart-Haas Racing to win that milestone race for Ford," Wood said. "We’re proud to have played a part in getting to 700, and we plan to do our part to run that number even higher."