Monday, June 6, 2016

CUP: Matt DiBenedetto pulls second NASCAR last-place sweep of 2016

SOURCE: Kenny Bruce
Matt DiBenedetto picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Axalta We Paint Winners 400 at the Pocono Raceway when his #83 E.J. Wade Construction Toyota fell out in a single-car crash after he completed 57 of 160 laps.

The finish, which came in DiBenedetto’s 46th series start, was his third of the season and first since Dover, two races ago.  Coming two days after his 40th-place showing in the inaugural XFINITY race at the Pocono track, DiBenedetto also became the second driver this year to pull a NASCAR weekend last-place sweep, joining Josh Wise at Texas.

DiBenedetto came into the Pocono race 33rd in the point standings after a challenging two weeks in Charlotte.  Another internet campaign following his breakthrough performance at Bristol made him was a top contender for the Sprint Fan Vote, but he was edged by Chase Elliott and Danica Patrick.  He finished 17th in the Sprint Showdown and was 32nd in the Coca-Cola 600, seven laps behind Martin Truex, Jr.’s dominant Toyota.  DiBenedetto also continued to run “start-and-park” duty in TriStar Motorsports’ #10 Toyota.  He’s finished last four times in that car this year, including the most recent two rounds at Charlotte and Saturday at Pocono.

On the Cup side, DiBenedetto came to Pocono with returning sponsor E.J. Wade Construction, who last funded the #83 BK Racing team at Richmond in April.  DiBenedetto was one of twelve drivers who weren’t able to complete a lap in Friday’s rain-shortened practice, but still managed to run 27th-fastest in qualifying at a speed of 177.204mph, three spots shy of making it into Round 2.  He ran 32nd fastest in Happy Hour on Saturday, then prepared for the rain-delayed event on Monday.

Starting last in the 400-miler was Reed Sorenson, who this week traded rides with his Premium Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt.  Sorenson would run the #55 Vydox Plus Chevrolet while Sorenson’s back #98 Chevrolet carried a small decal for the Hilton Scranton & Conference Center.  Sorenson held last for the opening four laps until DiBenedetto first found trouble.  Having slipped back to 34th, the #83 was running high in Turn 3 when he lost control and spun, narrowly missing the outside wall.

DiBenedetto moved Sorenson back to last on the Lap 7 restart and began to lose touch with the field.  On Lap 13, he was 26.4 seconds behind the leader, 1.9 seconds behind 39th-place Josh Wise in The Motorsports Group’s #30 Curtis Key Plumbing Chevrolet.  The next change for last came during the competition caution on Lap 16, when Casey Mears briefly held it in his #13 GEICO Chevrolet, then was again passed by DiBenedetto.  During pit stops, DiBenedetto crossed the nose of Martin Truex, Jr.’s #78 Furniture Row Toyota and slammed the inside wall, damaging the toe end on the left-front of the #83.  He returned to the track in last and was the first to lose a lap by the 20th circuit.

On Lap 22, Brian Scott was running a strong 16th, having stayed out in his #44 Medallion Financial Ford during the previous round of pit stops.  Coming off Turn 1, Scott lost control in the high lane and slapped the outside wall, flattening the passenger side of his car.  Scott took last from DiBenedetto under the caution as he pulled into the garage for repairs.  On Lap 61, Scott returned to the track, but something was still wrong with the car, so he returned to the garage after one lap.  Five circuits later, DiBenedetto’s wounded Toyota slammed the outside wall in nearly the same spot as Scott, drawing another yellow.  The BK Racing team attempted repairs, but they were done for the day.

At the time of DiBenedetto’s crash, the #83 was still 30 laps ahead of Scott, and it appeared the #44 would rack up the number’s first-ever last-place run in a Cup race at Pocono.  Then on Lap 100, the Richard Petty Motorsports team managed to get him out there a second time, and this time he managed to run the rest of the race.  On Lap 135, Scott passed DiBenedetto on track, dropping #83 to the last spot one final time.  Scott finished 39th.

A strong headwind down the front straightaway made Turn 1 more treacherous than usual.  Of the ten cautions, eight were for incidents going into or out of the corner.  38th went to Michael Annett, who had perhaps the hardest hit in Turn 1 when his #46 All State Peterbilt Chevrolet pounded the fence on Lap 103.  37th-place Austin Dillon had a good run going, but slammed the same spot with the right-front of his #3 Dow (STEM) Chevrolet.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was a disappointed Landon Cassill, whose #38 MDS Transport Ford was running inside the Top 20 when he was clipped by the wrecking Danica Patrick on the Lap 93 restart, leaving him 39 laps down.

*This was the first last-place finish for the #83 in a Cup race at Pocono since June 10, 2012, when Landon Cassill’s Burger King Real Fruit Smoothies Toyota crashed on Lap 2 of the Pocono 400.

40) #83-Matt DiBenedetto / 57 laps / crash
39) #44-Brian Scott / 81 laps / running
38) #46-Michael Annett / 102 laps / crash
37) #3-Austin Dillon / 117 laps / crash
36) #38-Landon Cassill / 121 laps / running

1st) Matt DiBenedetto, Reed Sorenson (3)
2nd) Josh Wise (2)
3rd) Aric Almirola, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kyle Larson, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman, Cole Whitt (1)

1st) Premium Motorsports (4)
2nd) BK Racing (3)
3rd) Richard Childress Racing, The Motorsports Group (2)
4th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (10)
2nd) Toyota (3)
3rd) Ford (1)

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