Matt DiBenedetto felt it was “long overdue” scoring his first top-10 finish of the season Sunday afternoon at Richmond Raceway. DiBenedetto and Wood Brothers Racing were ninth at the finish of the Toyota Owners 400.
“We’ve had some rough circumstances that sort of put us in a hole to start the year, but we knew that we have plenty of speed and obviously, a great team,” DiBenedetto said. “It was good to come here and (do well) at a track that I really wouldn’t consider one that I have a ton of success at in the past, so that was definitely rewarding. It was a day full of just no forgiveness. You couldn’t have any mistakes at all, so we started the race, and we’re too far off.
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“We worked on the car a little bit and made the right calls and got great breaks, and once we got track position and got up in the top 10 we had no problem staying up there. That was good. It was a really high-pressure day because there was no room for mistakes with that much green flag here. I’m proud of the team and having Menards and Libman on the car. All good stuff and something to build on. We’re climbing out of that hole in the points and gaining a lot quick.”
Richmond continues an upward trend that DiBenedetto and the No. 21 have been in recent weeks. It started with a 16th-place finish at Las Vegas, followed by a two-spot increase at Phoenix, and then just missing out on their first top 10 at Atlanta. DiBenedetto was then 13th on the dirt at Bristol and 12th at Martinsville.
The season started without much for DiBenedetto to write home about. In the first three races, he finished 28th or worse.
“I’m glad we’re finally getting on track and the runs that we deserve,” said DiBenedetto. “We started the year and just was nothing of our doing. We couldn’t even look at it and say they were self-inflicted; it was just kind of bad circumstances, so something that was out of our control. Not as bad a luck as Aric Almirola, but it just goes to show between him and I and kind of the rough starts to the season that sometimes things have to go your way. As easily as that momentum can be pretty bad, it can flip around, and we haven’t even really had smooth races until today, but we’ve still been climbing up in the points.
“It just shows the strength of our team, and it’s rewarding to finally get that top 10 and be climbing up there in the points, digging out of that hole and doing what I’ve known all along that we’re more than capable of as a team.”
P9 today, felt good to snag stage points and get a top 10 that is much deserved for our team! pic.twitter.com/bVHERJi6Mp
— Matt DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) April 19, 2021
After grabbing a playoff spot last season, DiBenedetto entered the year hopeful of taking another step forward with his team. But he’s watched eight drivers win races in the first nine, and three of those drivers (Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, and Michael McDowell) were not in the postseason a year ago. Meaning, DiBenedetto knows that along with getting his season turned around, his path to the playoffs will also be tough.
“There’s just a lot of guys that have won races and taken up some of those spots for the playoffs, so it makes it extra challenging,” he said. “I know that we can keep on hitting our stride, running consistently, having consistent runs. Consistency is everything, so if we can do that, I have confidence we can climb up in the points where we belong because we’re just kind of getting going. We still haven’t really had smooth races aside from today, although we’ve been finishing up in the top 15 and having OK runs.
“We still haven’t had the greatest of circumstances, so I know that we’re getting on track, building up points and that we can climb up there where we belong, but it’s going to be very crucial the next month. All of these races from here until the playoffs, we don’t really have any margin for error at all. Hopefully, a win would be the best-case scenario, but we’ve got to just focus on consistency.”