The general thinking in the NASCAR garage is that the goal going into a race at Talladega Superspeedway is to position yourself to have a shot at the win in the closing laps.
Matt DiBenedetto and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team proved last year that they could do that. DiBenedetto led laps 193-199 and most of the 200th and final lap only to be nipped at the finish line by Denny Hamlin. More disappointment was to come as he was penalized for forcing another driver below the yellow line and dropped to 21st place.
But the disappointment of last fall was tempered by the fact that driver and team had put themselves in position to win. And it takes more than good fortune to do that, as DiBenedetto explained in a media session with reporters on Tuesday.
“There is a lot of luck involved and a lot of skill involved in your decision making and studying for making the right moves when it comes down to the line and you have a shot to win,” DiBenedetto said, adding that he and his spotter Doug Campbell put in a lot of time away from the track preparing for the possibilities that arise during the race.
“We spend a lot of extra time on the superspeedways as far as the craft,” DiBenedetto said. “We got lucky [last fall] to survive, and then when we were there at the end we were making the right moves to have a good shot at it…
“It is hard. There is so much out of your control, and you have to figure out the right strategy.”
Also on DiBenedetto’s mind heading into Sunday’s GEICO 500 is trying to earn as many points as possible, and compete for the win, without taking undue risks that might jeopardize his recent climb in the points standings.
“My style is patiently aggressive,” he said. “That is a good way to describe me and how I approach every race.
“No matter what, no matter what is on the line, I never change that.
“Knowing the speed we have and that we can continue to climb in the points standings, all we need to do is continue to race like I always do and do our jobs and put our races together smart and smooth.”
Part of racing smart on superspeedways is working with his fellow drivers in the Ford camp, especially the drivers from Team Penske, which shares an alliance with DiBenedetto’s Wood Brothers team.
“I think our group does an incredible job – the whole Ford group in general and then the Penske folks and our alliance with them,” DiBenedetto said. “I feel like we do an excellent job working together when it is appropriate in races. Our group study is pretty hardcore at the race track for these things.
“We have a very dedicated group of people, and the Ford camp is awesome to be a part of when we go to Talladega.
“It gives you confidence, you just need a little luck on your side as well.”
And DiBenedetto insisted he’s put the disappointment of last fall behind him.
“Although last year stung a lot, every race is pretty much a reset at these superspeedways,” he said. “They are so wild and so crazy, and so many things have to work out your way. Some things are within and some are out of your control.
“I look at it like a new day and starting completely fresh to do all we can to go out there and get that 100th win for the Wood Brothers.”
There will be no practice or qualifying prior to the start of Sunday’s GEICO 500, which will have Stage breaks at Laps 60 and 120.
The green flag is set to fly just after 1 p.m. (2 p.m. Eastern Time) with TV coverage on FOX.