It was oh-so-close for Matt DiBenedetto Friday night (Sept. 8) at Kansas Speedway.
The 32-year-old, in his second full-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series year, came into Friday’s race 20 points below the cutline after a lackluster run at Milwaukee Mile and needed to score some stage points to help overcome his deficit.
But even after scoring a couple stage points in stage two and even rallying to finish third, it still wasn’t enough to keep DiBenedetto’s Truck Series championship hopes alive this year.
“It just stinks,” DiBenedetto said on pit road post-race. “You know, Milwaukee, we just had a little issue there end our day, and we lost a bunch of points, and man, it stinks because we come here, and my team did a great job. We had a good handling truck. Solid all day, and to come up a little short stinks.”
But he gave it one heck of a try.
“I would say mostly my head is always at just focusing on what’s in our control, and I try to treat every playoff race [the same],” DiBenedetto told Frontstretch pre-race. “I’ve heard Kevin Harvick say that it’s always his mentality, and I think it’s a good mentality to have.
“We’re just here to focus on maximizing our day and only focus on what’s in your control, but I would say on the flip side of that, some outward circumstances that we will be having to pay attention to is going to be where the No. 2 and some of those trucks that we are racing close points with.”
Unfortunately for DiBenedetto, his playoff bubble rival Nick Sanchez and the No. 2 team started front row alongside non-playoff driver Chase Purdy and dominated stage one. The victory was his third stage win of the season and allowed him to gain valuable stage points while DiBenedetto was outside the top 10.
However, as the No. 25 crew has done in past races this season, they worked on the truck, and afterward, problems with the ThorSport Racing trucks of Matt Crafton and Ben Rhodes saw the points gap almost diminish.
However, While Crafton went on to finish nine laps down in 33rd, Rhodes, who experienced a vibration, was able to hold on to enough track position to keep a satisfactory points gap in the closing laps, staying two laps down and running 25th.
DiBenedetto was essentially in a must-win situation.
Being 15 seconds behind the leader, DiBenedetto needed a caution to have any shot of winning, and that’s exactly what he got with 16 to go when Mason Maggio brought out the caution with 16 laps to go.
After a quick yellow on lap 127 for contact between Rajah Caruth and Tanner Gray, DiBenedetto lined up fourth on the outside line, and after back-to-back dives on the bottom, the former NASCAR Cup Series racer found himself fourth with the top three fighting three-wide for the lead.
“I was hoping they’d all wreck each other, and I just go by on the bottom. They were wrecking every lap,“ DiBenedetto said post-race. “They just somehow made it through the corner.”
With the leaders holding steady through the fierce battle up front, DiBenedetto would watch his playoff hopes slip away as Christian Eckes crossed the line first, Taylor Gray second and DiBenedetto matching his season best finish of third, yet it still was not enough to transfer through.
Despite the result, with some of his strongest tracks coming up on the schedule, DiBenedetto mentioned that he is prepared to give it all in the next few weeks during his final races with Rackley W.A.R., who he recently announced he would be leaving at the end of the year.
“I want to get a win and we’ve just been getting stronger, working hard and harder and bringing solid trucks,” DiBenedetto said. “We were up in the top 10 all night, and it was handling well. It was solid, so I want to get a win real bad. Proud of the effort tonight though regardless of coming up short on points.”
DiBenedetto might have fallen short in the end, but he didn’t go down without leaving it all out on the track.
About the author
Wyatt Watson has been an avid fan of NASCAR since 2007 at the age of 8. He joined Frontstretch in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter.
Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime
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