Matt DiBenedetto and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team kicked off their 2021 Speedweeks with a 10th-place finish in Tuesday night’s Busch Clash.
DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang lined up 12th for the start of the 35-lap non-points race for top performers from the 2020 season.
At the drop of the initial green flag, DiBenedetto showed that his starting/restarting skills were still sharp as he moved up to seventh place in the opening lap.
The Clash was contested on Daytona International Speedway’s 14-turn road course, and throughout the event, there were plenty of instances in which drivers overshot corners or slipped on the often-muddy backstretch chicane.
DiBenedetto missed the chicane himself early on and had to stop on the track as penalty, but was back in eighth place by the time the competition caution flag flew at Lap 16.
The second segment of the race saw more of the same for DiBenedetto and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team, and despite some battle scars on his red-and-white Mustang he came away with a top-10 finish in his first-ever Clash appearance.
“It felt great to get back behind the wheel for sure,” DiBenedetto said. “We have a ton of momentum from the end of last year that makes this season exciting. This road course was our biggest struggle last year. WE tried some things and still weren’t where we need to be. Luckily this race was a good test for us to evaluate what we need to continue to work on to improve our road course program, but we will keep gaining on it.
“We are very strong on superspeedways, intermediates and short tracks. we just have to get that last little bit at the road courses.”
Eddie Wood said that even though the race doesn’t count toward the championship, it was a good start to the week at Daytona.
“It doesn’t pay points, but it’s still a race and you still want to perform well and have a good finish,” he said. “And since they’ll be back on the road course the week after the 500, what they learned in the Clash will be helpful when there are points on the line.”
Now the focus turns to the 2.5-mile superspeedway, with a practice session and Daytona 500 pole qualifying on Wednesday and the twin 150-mile Duels on Thursday night, where the starting field will be finalized for Sunday’s Daytona 500 and Stage points awarded to the top 10 finishers in each race.
This year’s schedule is a departure from previous years, when there was a week between the Clash and the 500.
“In days gone by, you’d have a week after the Clash to think about racing again, but this year we’ll be getting down to it right away.”
And unlike most of last season, when restrictions on attendance were in place due to COVID-19, Wood, as a team owner, will be allowed to attend the races at Daytona.
“It’ll be my 49th Speedweeks,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
Daytona 500 pole qualifying is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday with TV coverage on FOX Sports 1. The Bluegreen Vacation Duel qualifying races are on Thursday at 7 p.m., also on FOX Sports 1.
The Daytona 500 is set to get the green flag at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday with the TV broadcast shifting to FOX.