Matt DiBenedetto had a fast car, and crew chief Greg Erwin had the right call for the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing team to snag a runner-up finish at Las Vegas.
DiBenedetto was unofficially credited with a second-place finish behind Joey Logano in the Pennzoil 400. The field was frozen as Logano had already taken the white flag when multiple drivers found trouble off Turn 4 and down the frontstretch.
On the final restart with two laps to go, DiBenedetto lined up third and quickly jumped inside of William Byron to grab the second position. Byron had restarted on the front row but was on the inside lane as Logano chose the outside. DiBenedetto and Byron made slight contact, which resulted in a tire rub for Byron.
Erwin had kept DiBenedetto, who was running inside the top 10, on track under caution with six laps to go. The finish tied a career-best for DiBenedetto in the NASCAR Cup Series and was the first top-five result for Wood Brothers since June 2018 in Michigan.
“I knew the team had every bit of that capability,” said DiBenedetto. “They’re so good with Greg Erwin leading these guys. This team is phenomenal; there’s no doubt about that. I was a little worried about our car, though. It wasn’t a picture-perfect day. We had to make huge adjustments, and our communication was great from me screaming really loose and us being off (at the) start, and then dialing it in little by little every pit stop. Then getting it there at the end where I was comfortable staying out because I knew the car had great speed.
“It was best on the long runs and we just needed a little track position because we were a little stuck in the dirty air.”
With qualifying rained out, DiBenedetto started 19th. He had shown speed in Friday practice with the fifth-fastest lap in final practice. Even with that though, DiBenedetto mentioned in a TV interview the numerous adjustments being made to his Ford Mustang.
“How strong this race team is, and it’s encouraging,” said DiBenedetto of his takeaways. “That’s what makes a great team. We didn’t start off great, but to know that we can close, make the right adjustments, do all the right things, my pit crew can do an excellent job –- all the things that tie a race together.”
Sunday, DiBenedetto ran inside the top 15 early in the day and started making a steady progression into the top 10 with under 100 laps to go. Once there, DiBenedetto never lost his track position.
“This one was an encouraging second-place finish for sure,” said DiBenedetto. “It’s so cool. It’s too dang surreal to be driving this thing in the first place — the legendary Motorcraft / Quick Lane No. 21. It’s so cool to have the support of them and Menards and Ford and this whole team. It took so many people, and it’s so cool to be driving for the Wood Brothers. It took so many people to get me this thing, and we’re close — the second race of the season, and we’re already starting off with a second-place finish. That’s great.
“I’m happy for Joey,” DiBenedetto continued. “Those Penske cars were really fast, and I can’t thank them enough for their help of our team as well. We were close. I made a real aggressive move there. Greg Erwin, my crew chief, made great calls, and that’s what it took to get us up there and inch up there all day.”