By Sarah Handy, Staff Writer
Matt DiBenedetto heads into the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway later today and the first race of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs looking to click off a win and advance to the next round.
After grabbing the 16th and final playoff spot at Daytona last weekend, DiBenedetto knows a successful playoffs means checking off a win.
WE MADE THE PLAYOFFS 💪🏻🥳
— Matt DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) August 30, 2020
“Clicking off a win would be great. That is a great goal,” said DiBenedetto. “When I say that I don’t focus too much on winning that is more when I am on the track and in the car. From a goal standpoint we would absolutely love to get that 100th win for the Wood Brothers. That would be an amazing goal to accomplish. I would say that now that we are in the playoffs, we are focusing on executing and making the most of what we have and make it through a round or a couple rounds. We are competing for a championship. This is the time to shine and hopefully make it down to the end.”
The NASCAR Cup Series has raced at the track ‘Too Tough To Tame’ twice in 2020 as racing returned in May amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In the two prior events, DiBenedetto reeled off finishes of 14th and 9th, respectively.
During a mid-week availability with the media, DiBenedetto said that Darlington is more about focusing on the race track then racing your competitors.
“I would say Darlington is a [little] unique in the sense that you have to focus on racing the track and not quite as much racing other people,” said DiBenedetto. “You focus on minimizing your mistakes and racing the track and making good adjustments. It is a long race to keep up with and get your car handling well. You are focused on yourself and your team and not smacking the wall and things like that.”
2020 marks the first time DiBenedetto has made the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. The California native has also already tied his Top-10 finishes he earned last season; he currently has seven with 10 races remaining.
DiBenedetto spoke about how this past week has been for him with making the playoffs for the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career.
“I would say that this week has been a release. It was so stressful and kept getting [more] stressful leading up to Daytona and the points closed in and we lost the gap that we had and all that,” said DiBenedetto. “I would call this week exciting and we got to celebrate with some friends out on the lake Sunday and have a good time but come Monday it was time to shift focus and we still have [a lot of] racing left and a lot to accomplish. It was a relief and exciting moving forward now instead of stressful. Exciting knowing that we have an opportunity to really put a good end to our season and cap it off and have a lot more success. I am pretty pumped up about that and I am appreciative to be doing it for the Wood Brothers.”
Statistics wise DiBenedetto is on point to have a career year in his first year in the No. 21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing. The 29 year old made his NASCAR Cup Series debut in 2015 at Phoenix Raceway, a race where he finished 35th. And while he didn’t see that first career Top-10 until the following season with sixth at Bristol, he has earned at least one Top-10 finish each season since then.
DiBenedetto told the media that he has had time to reflect on how far he has come in his career to this point and that’s what contributes to the emotion and appreciation that people see.
“When I say things like my wife crying because we made the playoffs and all the accomplishments that goes back to, it is because of my past and my path to get here,” expressed DiBenedetto. “I have gone [so] far and gotten so lucky. To fight and claw from start and parking a car to being in underfunded equipment and trying to show that I can make the most of a race car to fast-forwarding to now and being in way beyond my dream opportunity of driving the 21 car and making the playoffs driving for the Wood Brothers. It is pretty surreal to have that opportunity to drive. All those things make me and my whole entire family appreciate it on a completely different level that we wouldn’t be able to without those experiences.”
DiBenedetto will start tonight’s Cook Out Southern 500 from Darlington Raceway in the 11th position. Tune into NBCSN live at 6:00 p.m. Eastern to catch all the action as the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs kick off.
— Matt DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) August 31, 2020
Photo Credit: Nigel Kinrade Photography / NKP Photo