A few weeks ago, Matt DiBenedetto was sitting pretty in the NASCAR Cup Series playoff standings. He was 15th overall and held a nice gap on the bubble. He has lucked out with Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominating the last couple of weekends with the duo combining to win four of the last five races run. Factor in Chase Elliott’s win on the Daytona road course and you get no one new stealing any fluke wins.
With just the Daytona International Speedway oval to round out the regular season, a driver that had a comfortable margin of 40-60 points up on the bubble should be in a good position right? Even if someone new wins Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN), DiBenedetto would have such a large gap over 16th that at the very worst, he could snag the final wildcard spot.
Instead, he’s only nine points up on the bubble and not in a good spot to be comfortable in heading into the regular season finale in Daytona.
“I hate to be negative, but if we were going somewhere else, I would feel better about it,” DiBenedetto said about Daytona and his spot in the standings. “We have been pretty strong at most tracks aside from here. I have struggled here (Dover). Going to Daytona where the Fords are strong, but I have ended up in 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.”
DiBenedetto notes that they shouldn’t be this close to the bubble. It’s frustrating for them. A few races at Texas and Kansas really hurt them by being caught up in someone else’s crashes. Then, factor in Dover and you get what was once a comforting ride to a nervous one this week.
“I have crashed in the back, the middle, running second a couple of times,” DiBenedetto said of Daytona and his strategy. “On the bottom, the middle, the top. You name it. 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 is out of your hands at those places.
“I am just frustrated that we are even in this position that we are on the bubble and this close.”
He did finish eighth in this race last year and is hopeful to just do enough to make the postseason for the first time of his career. He also has a lot of Ford for drafting help as his No. 21 Ford should be dialed in with good speed on Saturday too.