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DiBenedetto can still feel sting of last Bristol race

Jeff Birchfield • May 30, 2020 at 2:30 PM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Months later, Matt DiBenedetto still can’t bear to watch a replay of the last time the NASCAR Cup Series was at Bristol Motor Speedway.

He scored the best finish of his Cup career that night, but contact with another car allowed Denny Hamlin to catch and eventually pass him for the win in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. That performance caused fans to rally in support of DiBenedetto, who had just lost his ride in the No. 95 Toyota.

Now he returns to BMS with a new team, driving the famed Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford for Sunday’s Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500.

“That was probably one of the biggest days for my entire career, honestly, so that was a moment I’ll never forget, having all the support from the fans,” DiBenedetto said. “That was a crazy moment and I really didn’t even know how to feel because it was probably one of the most defeating and toughest days of my life, but also one of the most rewarding from the support we had from the fans and everybody.

“It was a tough week on us, so there was a lot of not really knowing how to feel. But ultimately it led to being a big factor in me getting this opportunity to drive the 21 car this year, so it was a big day and everything was meant to be.”

The 28-year-old California native has never watched the entire race and because of rules changes to the cars doesn’t feel the need to do so for Sunday’s race.

“I actually still to this day have not watched the end of that race,” he said. “It’s still that painful that I’ve never watched.

“I can’t remember what lap, but I cut it off and I can’t even watch it. It would be too much, but as far as what I’m going to try to learn for this Sunday, I’m actually going to go back and probably watch mostly 2018 stuff because we have the low downforce back for Bristol, which will make the racing way, way better. So for note-taking and learning, I’ll go back and watch 2018 on video.”

DiBenedetto has a good feel for the .533-mile short track anyway. His first career top 10, a sixth-place finish, came with the underfunded BK Racing team in the 2016 Food City 500.

And earlier this season, he matched his career best by recording a runner-up finish at Las Vegas.

He knows a driver must be on top of his game at Bristol, especially in the earlier stages, or he will soon get behind. With no practice leading into Sunday’s race, that becomes more difficult.

“Bristol, there’s just no margin for error,” he said. “It’s really, really fast. It’s an insanely fast short track. You’re on edge already even when you have your car dialed in, so I’d say that one will be a little bit more nerve-racking for the drivers

“If you’re off just a little bit at Bristol, it can affect you worse than these tracks where it’s a big race track — a mile and a half — and you don’t have to worry about going a lap down if you miss it or things like that, so this one will be a little bit more treacherous.”

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