After a disgraceful start to the 2021 season, the ship seems to be heading in the right direction for Wood Brothers Racing, and driver Matt DiBenedetto.
Driver No. 21 captured his third consecutive top-ten finish, and second top-five in a row in Sunday’s Buschy McBusch 400 from Kansas Speedway.
“The restarts at the end were insane, which is pretty normal for Kansas,” DiBenedetto said post-race. “It’s kind of like superspeedway racing on the restarts and it gets messy at the end. I’m glad we survived them. I’m glad we were on the bottom lane, which I don’t say much but at the end it worked out because they got all jumbled up and about crashed up top there, so it worked out”
The fourth place finish on Sunday marks the first time in DiBenedetto’s career that he has scored back-to-back top five finishes after finishing fifth in Talladega just a week ago. It’s the eighth time this season DiBenedetto outperformed his starting position.
In fourth, @mattdracing picks up back-to-back top-five finishes for the first-time in his NASCAR Cup Series career, driving for @woodbrothers21.#NASCAR | @NASCAR | #BuschyMcBuschRace400 pic.twitter.com/gc6i4DIoJd
— Joseph Srigley (@joe_srigley) May 2, 2021
Currently sitting 16th in points, his ascension into playoff contention has been a quick one over the past month. Following the Bristol Dirt Race, DiBenedetto was 24th in points, riding a four race streak of top-20 finishes. Just a month later, and three top tens in four races, he rose a whopping eight positions since the beginning of April.
“I knew we had the strength of the team after such a rough start to the season and just circumstances out of our control,” he said. ” It’s amazing to come back like this, so it just shows that momentum can go one way or another and when it clicks and you get on a roll it can go well. I’m just really proud of the team. Nobody every got down during those times when it was a rough start and we’re really rebounding and just super proud of the entire team.”
Overall, Sunday’s race in Kansas is what many fans were probably expecting – long green flag runs, with very little cautions. The race only had three cautions for on-track incidents, all coming within the final stage of the race.
A questionable move by NASCAR occurred within the final 50 laps of the race, as a tire got away from the pit stall of Tyler Reddick. The tire rolled out to the front stretch grass just beyond pit road, and remained there. Surprisingly, NASCAR opted to not throw the caution immediately, instead waiting around ten laps before displaying the yellow as green flag pit stops were underway. It didn’t seem to bother the Ford driver.
“I’d be curious to see what peoples’ thoughts were on it, said DiBenedetto. “Mine personally, in my opinion, I guess I was glad and appreciative because it wasn’t unsafe. The tire was down there out of harm’s way, so I thought personally that was pretty cool that they let it shake out and we all got our pit cycles through. It was nothing unsafe or anything, so I was totally fine with it. NASCAR does a good job of not trying to impede on the races and do anything that jumbles it up unnecessarily, so thankful for that.”
After the final restart, DiBenedetto found himself just outside the top five when fellow Ford driver Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott went high in turn two, giving DiBenedetto the chance to dive under and break into the top-five.
This hot streak the team is riding on could have been seen coming, at least from the perspective of the driver.
“I knew we had good tracks coming up and we were very strong as a team, so I knew we were very capable of doing what we’re doing, but it also takes a lot of things,” he said. Just like they didn’t work out way, it takes things working our way like today, making good calls and having good restarts and staying out of the mess and being smart, so it takes a lot and I’m glad it’s lined up for us to be on a good streak here and racking up points. I’ve put a big emphasis on racing smart because we’ve got to be there at the end when it counts.”
Heading into Darlington, he’ll look to make it three top-five finishes in a row, which isn’t out of reach for the No. 21 team. Of the last four races at the track “Too Tough To Tame”, he finished in the top ten twice and in the top-20 three of four times.