Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Menards/Wrangler RIGGS team rallied from some early struggles in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway to score Stage points in the second Stage and post a 12th-place finish at the end.
DiBenedetto earned the 18th starting spot for Sunday’s race and was on the move early on, moving to 13th place after just eight laps.
He fell back for the remainder of the first Stage and finished that 80-lap segment outside the top 20. A leaking left rear tire was found to be the culprit, but not before adjustments had been made to compensate for the ill-handling condition.
Once the Menards/Wrangler RIGGS team had the chance to readjust the No. 21 Mustang, DiBenedetto again began to work his way forward.
As the leaders began to make green-flag pit stops around Lap 125, crew chief Greg Erwin made the call to run long on that segment.
DiBenedetto took the lead on Lap 133 and was out front when the caution flag flew for a spin by Matt Kenseth.
That allowed DiBenedetto, who led a total of 12 laps, to make that stop under the caution. That led to a seventh-place finish in the second Stage, which was worth four bonus points.
In the third and final segment of the race, DiBenedetto ran either in the top 10 or just outside that group, eventually finishing 12th in a race won by his fellow Ford driver Joey Logano, who now will race for the championship on Nov. 8 at Phoenix Raceway, where he won earlier this season.
"We just didn’t have the speed we needed," DiBenedetto said. "We were a little off all day, but we recovered and made a fairly solid day out of it."
He said the leaking tire early in the race was one of the team’s main challenges.
"It threw us for a loop and kind of put us behind for a while," he said. "It was a little bit of a setback."
Eddie Wood said that all-in-all it was a good day at the race.
"I’m happy for Joey and Team Penske to have earned a spot in the championship round," he said. "And although we didn’t finish in the top five or top 10 like you always want to do, it was a good day for us.
"Greg and the crew did a great job, and Matt hung tough all day even though they never got the car where he felt comfortable.
"And Greg’s call to run long near the end of Stage Two worked out even better than he thought it might."
DiBenedetto and the Wood Brothers team remain in 15th place in the points standings heading into next Sunday’s Autotrader 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.