DiBenedetto, who drives the No. 21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing, put in one of his best performances in a superspeedway race on Sunday, and found himself in excellent position late in the event to earn his first Cup Series win.
When Sunday’s race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway headed into overtime, DiBenedetto led the way and still held the lead entering the final lap of the race.
DiBenedetto saw Ryan Blaney advancing on the high lane and decided to move up to block. When he did, Brad Keselowski remained glued to the bottom lane and got a big shove from Michael McDowell that help propel him into the lead.
Keselowski hung on for the victory while DiBenedetto got shuffled back to fifth at the checkered flag.
“I think as I get older my perspective on a lot of things gets better, so the way I look at it is, it’s disappointing to come close so many times, not just today because this is Talladega and a lot of things happen that’s crazy,” said DiBenedetto, who led 28 laps in the race and 14 of the final 15.
“But to come close – a lot of my career has consisted of a lot of that and some heartbreaks and it’s tough. The way that I look at it is I focus on what’s in my control and focus on the positives. I’m driving fast cars. We’re in position to win and I know that if we keep doing that, our day will definitely come.”
DiBenedetto, 29, said he doesn’t look forward to watching a replay of the final lap because, “I’ll just drive myself crazy.”
“I will never let myself live it down. We did the best job we can,” he said. “Circumstances are crazy, especially with how big the runs are and all that, so it’s nothing to beat ourselves up over.”
From the big-picture perspective, Sunday’s outcome was important for DiBenedetto and the No. 21 team. They won a stage, finished strong and picked up their second consecutive top-10 finish of the season.
Over the last five races, DiBenedetto has moved from 28th to 17th in the series standings. While a win would lock the team into the playoffs, his performance of late is helping to make a run into the playoffs by points far more plausible.
“It was a solid day, 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.
“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 tough ending.”