Column by: ANTHONY PALOMBO / RPW – LAS VEGAS, NV
The stakes were high Sunday afternoon in the desert along the outskirts of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Joey Logano had just lost the lead to his teammate in the No.12, Ryan Blaney with 10 laps to go. This, with a fast charging Hendrick Motorsports train of the No.88 Alex Bowman & No.24 William Byron trying to steal a late ‘W’, with better long run cars.
Then it all came to a screeching halt. A late caution became a gamble. To pit or not pit on nearly 40 lap old tires? Joey Logano led the seven drivers to not pit. Matt DiBenedetto in the No.21 Motorcraft Ford Mustang was the third car not to pit.
On the ensuing restart, DiBenedetto was behind William Byron, three rows clear of those who decided to pit for fresher tires. By turn three with two to go, DiBenedetto had gotten by Byron and was on the bumper of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for P2. Just after the start/finish line to bring out the white flag, chaos ensued ending the race. DiBenedetto edged out Stenhouse at the last scoring loop for the runner up position, tying his best career finish of second he achieved last fall at Bristol Motor Speedway. This, in only his second race for the famed & storied Wood Brothers Racing team.
“This one was an encouraging second place finish. It’s just too dang surreal to be driving this thing in the first place, the legendary Motorcraft/Quicklane No.21. It’s cool to have the support of them, Menards, Ford and this whole team.” Dibenedetto exclaimed with an ear to ear smile on his face after the race.
He continued, saying, “We had to make huge adjustments. From me screaming really loose, us being off to start and dialing it in little by little every pit stop. Then there at the end where I was comfortable staying out, ‘cause I knew the car had great speed. We just needed a little track position, we were stuck in the dirty air.”
Which led to his second career P2 finish and his first top 5 on a 1.5 mile intermediate track in the Cup Series.
The gamble that the Wood Brothers are taking, with the help of Paul Menard in Matt Dibenedetto is paying off early. Matt’s talent and stock is only rising in the garage. The team certainly hopes to keep this momentum going in a very fast Penske aligned Ford Mustang.
This weekend, the series heads to the two mile D shaped Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Ca.