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The red-and-white slipper fits: DiBenedetto, Wood Brothers Racing earn playoff berth

Photo by Erick Messer/TRE

For the first time in his career and only the second time in the team’s history, Matt DiBenedetto has made the playoffs with the Wood Brothers Racing team.

DiBenedetto earned four stage points and avoided multiple late-race wrecks en route to a 12th place finish in Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 and, most importantly, a berth in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

DiBenedetto entered Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 with a nine-point advantage over 17th place Jimmie Johnson and a five-point advantage over 16th place William Byron.

DiBenedetto started 15th and struggled in the first stage, failing to earn any stage points while Johnson earned six points and Byron earned four points.

In stage two, however, DiBenedetto made up track position as a part of a strategy by the Ford teams. During the caution for stage one, many of the Ford drivers, including DiBenedetto, pitted on lap 54. This allowed them to have enough fuel to make it to the end of stage two, on lap 100.

DiBenedetto hung around the front of the pack in stage two and eventually finished seventh in the stage, earning him four points.

Heading into the final stage, DiBenedetto was five points ahead of Byron who, at the time, was the first driver out at the time. DiBenedetto was also one point ahead of Johnson, who was the last driver locked into the playoffs at the time.

As the race entered its final laps, DiBenedetto found himself behind of Byron, but ahead of Johnson, which would lock DiBenedetto, if there was not a new winner. As drivers such as Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick challenged for the lead, this scenario put DiBenedetto’s chances in limbo.

However, under the fourth caution, on lap 144, DiBenedetto moved ahead of Byron as he and Johnson pitted for tires, putting them in 14th and 18th for the 148 restart while DiBenedetto restarted 12th.

DiBenedetto gained an advantage on the restart that he was able to anxiously hold as he survived multiple late-race wrecks, which took out Johnson and potential playoff spoilers Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Tyler Reddick, en route to a playoff berth-earning 12th-place finish.

For DiBenedetto, it his first-ever playoff berth, guaranteeing him his best career points finish, besting a 22nd place points finish in 2019.

For his team, Wood Brothers Racing, it is the second time in eight attempts at the playoffs that they have earned a playoff berth. It is their first berth since 2017 with Ryan Blaney, who earned them a ninth-place in points that year.

DiBenedetto is in the no. 16 seed to start the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, which begins with the September 6 Southern 500 at Darlington (6 p.m. ET; TV: NBCSN, Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

SOURCES:
NASCAR
Racing-Reference.Info

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