Earning a playoff spot was a lot more stressful, and the points battle much closer than Matt DiBenedetto wanted, but he prevailed in the final race of the regular season.
DiBenedetto called the feat the biggest accomplishment of his career. He makes the postseason for the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series tenure. This is the California native’s sixth full season, but his first with Wood Brothers Racing.
“That was so stressful,” said DiBenedetto after Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400. “But, man, just so much appreciation to a level that is hard to describe because of my career path and appreciating the little things. This is a big one. When you’re driving for the Wood Brothers and have all these great people around you, it just means so much to be able to do it.”
A 12th-place finish was good enough for DiBenedetto and the No. 21 team. When Jimmie Johnson was collected in a multi-car crash on lap 160, their chances significantly increased. DiBenedetto missed the race’s two big crashes.
“You couldn’t have scripted it any crazier than that,” DiBenedetto said. “We had a decent points cushion, and we were really getting in a groove, (but) the last few weeks were just rough on us. And that’s just part of it.
“Man, coming into here, that was by far the most stressful situation I’ve ever dealt with behind the wheel. But I have to thank my career path and all the opportunities I’ve gotten before this because last year (at) this time, I didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to drive a Cup car again. So, fast forward a year, I’m appreciative of all the stressful situations I’ve been through because it’s made me extremely mentally tough to where I feel like I can be a good leader along with the guys on my team, and not let it get to me.”
By earning a playoff spot, DiBenedetto is guaranteed a career-best finish in the point standings. The next top-10 finish he earns will set a new single-season record for him.
Looking ahead to the stretch run, DiBenedetto feels there are a lot of strengths there for his team. As the season has progressed, DiBenedetto has felt his team has developed well, and making the playoffs is good timing for them.
“Overall, we are as ready as ever to make the playoffs and contend for a championship,” he said.