There was no hiding Matt DiBenedetto’s frustration after two bad days at Dover put his playoff hopes in jeopardy.
“Dover killed us. We were pretty horrendous both days,” said DiBenedetto. “I just tried to make the most of it, and it just wasn’t much. It was the perfect storm of really losing a lot of points and having a rough weekend.”
DiBenedetto and Wood Brothers Racing finished 20th and 17th in the Dover races. Sunday, DiBenedetto started on the pole and led the first 11 laps, but the handling of his Ford Mustang was never where he needed it.
In two days, DiBenedetto lost 35 points to the playoff cutline. He went from having a 44-point advantage as the 15th driver on the playoff grid to a slim nine-point lead going into the regular-season finale at the Daytona superspeedway.
“I hate to be negative, but if we were going somewhere else, I would feel better about it because we have been pretty strong at most tracks aside from here,” he said. “I have struggled here. Going to Daytona where the Fords are strong, but I have ended up at the infield care center the last two years there. We keep getting caught up in everyone’s mess. I am going to sit and hope and pray all week that we can just come out of there clean and make the playoffs.
“We shouldn’t be this close to the bubble. It is frustrating. A couple of weeks messed us up. Getting wiped out at Texas and Kansas really hurt us points-wise, and then we come here and really hurt ourselves here. It has been a tough go of circumstances, and going to Daytona is going to make it quite an uncomfortable week.”
In their first year together, DiBenedetto and the Wood Brothers have shown the potential to be contenders. DiBenedetto has earned seven top-10 finishes, which is the most the team has had since 2018. His average finish is 15.2, and he’s trying to put the No. 21 car in the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
DiBenedetto admitted he would be “a pretty grumpy individual” if he misses the postseason. It was the team’s goal coming into the year, and DiBenedetto was confident he could be a fourth challenger alongside his three Team Penske teammates. Having worked so hard to get this far into the season with have a shot at the playoffs, only for it to come down to the unpredictability of Daytona, is where his frustration lies.
“I have crashed in the back, the middle, running second multiple times,” said DiBenedetto. “On the bottom, the middle, the top. You name it, and I have been minding my own business and gotten wiped out. So, sometimes it doesn’t really matter how smart you race and what you do and all the things you do right, even if you are running first or second. A lot that is out of your hands at those places.
“I am not trying to be Negative Nancy about it, but I am just frustrated that we are even in this position that we are on the bubble and this close. We have had a lot of speed at most tracks. Erase Dover out of your mind. Aside from that, we have been able to drive up to the top-five or top-10 at a bunch of them, but just it seems like luck has not gone our way at a lot of places, and it has put us in this position that is frustrating. Hopefully, I will be in a better mood after we get out of Daytona if we can have a little luck on our side.”