Matt DiBenedetto had two lanes to try and block on the last lap at Talladega Superspeedway, and his thinking was to get in front of Ryan Blaney on the top.
The move didn’t pay off because as soon as DiBenedetto bailed on the bottom it presented an opportunity for Brad Keselowski, who made the winning pass on DiBenedetto going into Turn 1. From there, DiBenedetto was left fighting in a frantic pack and came across the finish line fifth.
“I’ve got to go back and replay it and watch it myself,” DiBenedetto said. “It all seems like a little bit of a blur because it all happened so quick, but my focus and intention behind the wheel was picking up Ryan because he was a great pusher, a great help. Obviously, Brad was really good too on the bottom, but Ryan had a run and a good push. I was actually just trying to pick him up and hoping we could get some steam and go to the front and take control of the race, get up there, so that was my intention.
“And my spotter, Doug (Campbell), I put a lot of trust in him, and he called me to go to the top. I can only see so much, but I saw Ryan with a run, so I went up there to pick that up. Ultimately, Ryan got spit out a little bit and drug back some.”
DiBenedetto led 28 laps and won the first stage of the GEICO 500. He was one of a slew of Ford drivers who controlled much of the race’s final stage. After taking the lead on lap 177, DiBenedetto led a strength in numbers with the line of cars following him around the top of the track before the final caution flew on lap 186, setting up overtime.
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For overtime, DiBenedetto chose the bottom lane and restarted in front of Keselowski. Blaney restarted alongside him on the front row with Kevin Harvick behind him. All of the top six drivers on the overtime restart were in Fords.
“Being the lead is tough, and I never feel good at Talladega until we cross the line winning it because so much can happen,” DiBenedetto said. “Last year, we were leading coming off of (Turn) 4, and that’s still not close enough. I felt best before that caution came out when it was the three of us (DiBenedetto, Blaney, Keselowski) in control of the race up front. I felt pretty good about that and didn’t really want to see the caution, but it is what it is.”
DiBenedetto called it a tough ending but found solace in the positives from the day.
“It was a solid day, (I’ll) take a top five and had a stage win, so that’s great,” he said. “The car was really fast. All the Fords were super good; that was awesome. Our car led great. Ryan really pushed. Our Penske teammates did an excellent job helping us get that stage win, so that was huge. Big credit to them and big for our points situation, so just a tough ending.”
And DiBenedetto had the same mentality about coming so close yet again to his first Cup Series win. During his television interview, DiBenedetto said the day would come for him and Wood Brothers Racing if they keep putting themselves in position, and he reiterated that belief as he continued to review the race.
“We did the best job we can,” said DiBenedetto. “Circumstances are crazy, especially with how big the runs are and all that, so it’s nothing to beat ourselves up over. We had a stage win and a good day, and I know that although my career has consisted of a lot of heartbreaks, our day will come, so I don’t look at it in a negative way.”