Matt DiBenedetto’s 12th-place finish in the first of two Bluegreen Vacations Duel races at Daytona International Speedway Thursday night wasn’t exactly what he had in mind, but he’s feeling pretty good about his No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang headed into Sunday’s Daytona 500, where he’s set to start 23rd.
DiBenedetto lined up ninth for the start of Thursday’s 150-mile qualifying race. By Lap 20 of 60, he had driven into the top five and was in fourth place with 26 laps to go when he came to pit road under the green flag for a gas-only pit stop.
DiBenedetto maximized his entry and exit to the pits, and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew performed flawlessly, allowing him to move to third place when the pit stops cycled through.
With four Ford Mustangs, including the No. 21, at the front of the pack as the laps wound down, DiBenedetto pulled out of line in a bid to win, but the needed drafting help didn’t materialize and he wound up dropping back to 12th place at the finish.
“We had good execution for most of the race, and had a good fuel-only stop,” DiBenedetto said. “We were running third coming to the end of the race, and I tried to be aggressive and pick off the bottom lane, and I wound up losing all my track position.”
But the overall performance of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang has driver and team confident about their prospects for the Great American Race.
“The car drove well and handled well,” DiBenedetto said. “We don’t need to do a lot of work on the car. We just need to take what we learned in the Duel and apply it to the 500.”
After two practice sessions on Saturday, the 63rd annual Daytona 500 is set to get the green flag just after 2:30 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on FOX.