Matt DiBenedetto able to smile after second place run at Vegas

LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 23: Matt DiBenedetto (21) Wood Brothers Racing Team Ford Mustang out of turn 4 during the late laps of the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube Sunday February 23, 2020 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, NV. (Photo by Will Lester/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The second start for Matt DiBenedetto with the Wood Brothers may portend more good things to come.

DiBenedetto avoided trouble Sunday at Vegas, unlike his first outing with the team which came in last week’s Daytona 500 and saw him swept up in the carnage.

When the 400 miles were run, DiBenedetto was rewarded with a second-place finish, tying his career best in the NASCAR Cup series.

“This one was an encouraging second-place finish for sure.  It’s so cool,” he said. “It’s too dang surreal to be driving this thing in the first place, the legendary Motorcraft/Quick Lane No. 21.  It’s so cool to have the support of them and Menards and Ford and this whole team.

“It took so many people and it’s so cool to be driving for the Wood Brothers.  It took so many people to get me this thing and we’re close – the second race of the season and we’re already starting off with a second-place finish.  That’s great.  I’m happy for Joey.  Those Penske cars were really fast and I can’t thank them enough for their help of our team as well.  We were close.  I made a real aggressive move there.  Greg Erwin, my crew chief, made great calls and that’s what it took to get us up there and inch up there all day.”

While he did run near the front of the field much of the day, his real opportunity to move up came after the last caution when his crew chief elected to keep him out.

“Yeah, I knew the team has every bit of that capability,” DiBenedetto said.  “They’re so good with Greg Erwin leading these guys.  This team is phenomenal.  There’s no doubt about that.  I was a little worried about our car, though.  It wasn’t a picture-perfect day.  We had to make huge adjustments and our communication was great from me screaming really loose and us being off to start and then dialing it in little by little every pit stop, and then getting it there at the end where I was comfortable staying out because I knew the car had great speed.  It was best on the long runs and we just needed a little track position because we were a little stuck in the dirty air.”

DiBenedetto said he was able to take away a valuable lesson from Sunday’s second place.

“How strong this team is and it’s encouraging,” he said.  “That’s what makes a great team.  We didn’t start off great, but to know that we can close, make the right adjustments, do all the right things, my pit crew can do an excellent job – all the things that tie a race together.”

Greg Engle