DiBenedetto Takes the High Road for Record-Setting Bristol Win by Matt Kentfield
Pass of Alex Yontz On Late Restart Makes DiBenedetto Bristol’s Youngest-Ever Winner
In August of 1991, Alan Kulwicki was the winner of the Bud 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway (TN). At the time, NASCAR’s highest level was called the Winston Cup Series, Bristol’s surface was asphalt instead of the current concrete and the now-familiar coliseum-like grandstands at Bristol were only frontstretch and backstretch bleachers.
Some folks may remember the way Bristol was just about 17 years ago. Matt DiBenedetto doesn’t. That’s because the Hickory, NC native wasn’t even one month old when Kulwicki took the checkers at Bristol that day.
Born on July 27th of 1991, DiBenedetto doesn’t remember much of the old Bristol. He doesn’t need to know a whole lot about the past, though, because as he proved on Saturday, the 16-year-old, he knows how to get around the new Bristol surface just fine.
DiBenedetto led the first 40 laps before giving way to Alex Yontz, winner of the first of two UARA races at BMS in 2007. Even after losing the lead, DiBenedetto stayed in Yontz’s tire tracks for much of the Thompson Metals 150 UARA-Stars event at BMS. On a lap 128 restart, however, DiBenedetto used the toughest way around Bristol – the outside – to get by Yontz to score his third-career UARA victory, becoming the youngest-ever winner in Bristol Motor Speedway’s rich racing history.
He may not have been around for the old days of Bristol, but winning at “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile” still means just as much to the youngster as it would any other racer who grew up in awe of the sport’s premier bullring.
“Oh my gosh. I’m not going to believe this one until it really hits…but it just never hits you,” said DiBenedetto upon climbing from his West Motorsports entry in Bristol’s victory lane. “I’m speechless.
“This goes to my crew and Randy Weaver my Crew Chief for setting everything up. Obviously it was just on a rail. It got better the more we went on, especially on
Matt DiBenedetto became Bristol's youngest winner. (51 Sports photos)
those restarts. The thing was a rocketship. This is the most unbelievable team that I’ve ever been with and they will never know how much I appreciate this in my life.”
His crew may have given him a stout #44 racecar, but the kid behind the wheel had to do some work all on his own to get the victory. When the caution flag flew on lap 120, DiBenedetto closed to Yontz’s bumper. Yontz won the Sunoco Pole earlier in the day and as the defending winner of this event, set a quick early pace.
As top-five contenders such as Jake Crum, Jamey Caudill, Jamie Yelton and Clint Mills all came and went during the 150-lap event, the two constants at the front of the field were Yontz and DiBenedetto. Fittingly, the finish came to a side-by-side battle between the two young guns.
On the restart on lap 128, however, DiBenedetto gritted his young teeth to pounce on his one opportunity to keep Yontz out of victory lane again. As the green flag flew, Yontz took off, but DiBenedetto got an even better run off the fourth corner, pulling to the outside of Yontz and eventually cleared him without looking back.
“(That was) Absolutely the hardest I’ve ever driven a racecar in my life,” said DiBenedetto of his pass of Yontz. “I knew that was what was going to win the race. I knew it was going to be a little tough to pass him on the bottom. I was real good on those restarts and I was timing them good, so I just figured, ‘I’m going all out. This is my run to the win right here and I’m going to push it as hard as I can.
“I got outside of him on the restart and I never lifted through one and two. I didn’t know if it was going to hold, but I made it stick. I drove it as hard as I possibly could.”
Yontz had the car to beat throughout practice and qualifying, timing first in both, but DiBenedetto was right on his heels in both sessions and in the race, as well. That’s why Yontz wasn’t surprised to see DiBenedetto try the high side on the pivotal restart.
“We had a real good car on all those long runs, but on those short runs, we knew we were going to have to hustle to keep out front,” said Yontz. “If we could just keep it for about two laps, we would be alright. He got that thing wound up on the outside and there wasn’t anything we could do at that point.
“I knew he had a real good motor and he could keep it wound up. That’s what I told the guys. I couldn’t let him have the bottom, but he’ll try to take us up high. That’s what he did.”
DiBenedetto’s work was not over once he got out front, however. A caution flag with only a handful of laps remaining erased his advantage over Yontz and a hard-charging Cliff Daniels in third. But, because DiBenedetto knew he had a strong car and also knew that Yontz did not have the giddy-up on the short runs, his path to victory was not as treacherous as it could’ve been.
“Most places, people wouldn’t like that at all – a shootout at the end with four to go,” said DiBenedetto. “But that really helped me out. My car was real good on the short runs after the restarts. After I’d go on, it’d get a little freer, but on those short runs it was unbelievable.”
DiBenedetto held off Yontz over the final laps to score his first win on the UARA circuit since winning at Franklin County (VA) last season. No disrespect to Franklin County nor Concord Motorsport Park (NC), the sites of both of DiBenedetto’s previous two UARA wins, neither facility is Bristol Motor Speedway. DiBenedetto knows that as well.
Alex Yontz (#55) couldn't hold off a hard-charging Matt DiBenedetto (#44) on the outside groove.
“I just smile like a little kid. Just to be a winner at Bristol in itself is unbelievable. I know Alex did it last year and I have to really thank him for driving me clean. He could’ve pushed me up and shoved me if he wanted to. He’s a classy driver.”
DiBenedetto joined Yontz as Bristol Motor Speedway winners on Saturday, but perhaps the surprise finishers of the event were the third and fourth-place drivers, Cliff Daniels and Darrell Wallace, Jr. Both drivers made their Bristol debuts on Saturday and both left with top-five runs to show for it.
“Anybody you talk to that’s a racing fan, and you tell them you’re going to Bristol, their eyes light up,” said third-place Daniels. “We really had a lot of anticipation for this race. We were excited for it, but we wanted to stick to our gameplan, which was to get a good-driving car. We knew there would be a lot of cars that would be fast in qualifying. We qualified 12th, which wasn’t great, but the competition’s so stiff. That’s about where we should’ve been, realistically. But we knew we were going to have a good car in the long run and that showed.”
Cliff Daniels finished an impressive third.
“We started 15th and we just rode,” said Wallace. “We picked off spots especially on the restarts, which was really good. I just tried to use my head and be patient and that got us a good fourth-place finish.”
Caleb Holman, after keeping his nose clean throughout the 150-lap event, rounded out the top-five.