Matt DiBenedetto shakes off ‘Dega near-miss, looks ahead to Kansas


On Thursday, Matt DiBenedetto told reporters that he had brought himself to watch his latest near-miss at Talladega Superspeedway.

But having done so, he’s not second-guessing his decisions on last Sunday’s final lap, where he led at the white flag only to finish fifth after being passed by eventual winner Brad Keselowski.

“(Ryan Blaney) kind of got shuffled and that line broke apart, so the circumstances could have been where it was, ‘Oh man, Matt. You made a great move taking that run and that momentum from the 12 car. You got shoved out, stayed out in the lead and won the race,'” DiBenedetto explained.

“You could be saying that same thing, so, no, I’m not beating myself up. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and I’m like, ‘Oh, I wish I would have stayed on the bottom,’ because if I would have known that lane and all that momentum broke up on the back straightaway and (Tyler Reddick) pulled out of line and all of that, but I didn’t. So, no, I’m not beating myself up over it.”

Frustrating as it was to come close again to his first career Cup Series win, DiBenedetto and his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing team still have momentum entering Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET, FS1).

Six straight finishes of 14th or better, along with a stage win at Talladega, have pushed DiBenedetto to within 12 points of the final playoff spot held by Chris Buescher.

Following the third race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway, DiBenedetto was 34th in the standings and 53 points – nearly a full race’s worth – out of a playoff spot.

DiBenedetto finished a dismal 28th at Miami, but has since progressively bettered his results on 1.5-mile tracks: A hard-luck 16th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and a steady 11th at Atlanta.

Out of those three tracks, Las Vegas is a more “standard” 1.5-mile track that’s similar to Kansas. And DiBenedetto’s performance in Vegas could be an indicator of what he’s capable of this Sunday.

In that race, he finished the opening stage in eighth after starting 30th on the grid. He maintained that top 10 speed throughout the day until his final pit stop, where an air gun failure compelled crew chief Greg Irwin to have him complete the race on three new tires and a heavily worn left-front tire.

But the No. 21 team’s luck has improved since then, and DiBenedetto is confident he’ll have the same speed in Kansas. And, unlike Vegas, he’ll get to roll off from a top five starting position.

“We have strong race cars pretty much everywhere, but I have a lot of confidence in the fact that we usually start with our setups pretty darn close,” he said. “Our engineers and team do a great job of starting close and it’s nice that we have the track position to go along with that, and we can start our day up front and be in front of the mess and hopefully, keep it up there and have a good, solid day.

“It’s a big deal. Even though I know it’s a long race, starting up front is a big deal on top of having fast cars on these mile-and-a-halves.”

Starting up front also means a great chance to score valuable stage points that can potentially move him into the top 16 of the playoff standings.

When asked if he felt extra pressure to make the most of that chance, DiBenedetto demurred, citing the various ups and downs of his career that he said have made him “almost numb” to pressure.

“We’ve gained so many points in such a short time and recovered at a level that I didn’t even know we could recover that quickly in such a short time, and we’re still on the up,” he continued.

“I feel like we’re just getting started, so instead of pressure, I probably look at it more as exciting like, ‘Heck yeah, we’ve got a top five starting position.’

“We’ve got great momentum. We’re putting together smooth races. We know we have fast race cars, a great team. All of that would probably be – right or wrong – that would just probably be my personal perspective in how I look at it and approach it.”

Cup drivers are for changing Texas but leery about making it another Atlanta


FORT WORTH, Texas — Some Cup drivers are concerned that a reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway could create racing similar to Atlanta, adding another type of superspeedway race to the NASCAR calendar.

While Texas officials have not stated publicly any plans to make changes, some competitors feel Sunday’s playoff race (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network) could be the final event on this track’s current layout. 

With the All-Star Race moving from Texas to North Wilkesboro next year, Texas Motor Speedway’s lone Cup race will take place Sept. 24, 2023. That could provide time for any alterations. Work on changing Atlanta began in July 2021 and was completed by December 2021. 

Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson said work needs to be done to Texas Motor Speedway.

“I would like them to demolish this place first and then start over from scratch,” Larson said Saturday. “For one, they did a very poor job with the reconfiguration, initial reconfiguration. 

“I would like to see them change it from a mile-and-a-half to something shorter. I don’t know if that means bringing the backstretch in or whatever. 

“If I could build a track, it’d be probably a three-quarter mile Bristol basically, pavement and progressive banking. But I don’t know if that’s even possible here. I’m not sure what they have in mind, but anything would be better than what they did.”

Former Cup champion Joey Logano worries about another superspeedway race with such events at Daytona, Talladega and now Atlanta. 

“Do we need more superspeedways?” Logano asked Saturday. “Is that the type of racing fans want to see? Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano said he wants to have more control in how he finishes, particularly in a playoff race. 

“I want to be at tracks where I can make a difference, where my team can make a difference, and we’re not at the mercy of a wreck that happened in front of us that we couldn’t do anything about,” he said.

Discussions of changing the track follow complaints about how tough it is to pass at this 1.5-mile speedway.

“Once you get to the top, it’s almost like the bottom (lane) is very, very weak,” Daniel Suarez said.

Suarez has mixed feelings about the idea of turning Texas into another Atlanta-style race.

“Atlanta was a very good racetrack, and then they turned it into a superspeedway and it’s a lot of fun,” Suarez said. “I see it as a hybrid. I don’t think we need another racetrack like that, but it’s not my decision to make. Whatever they throw out at us, I’m going to try to be the best I can be.”

Suarez hopes that Texas can be like what it once was.

“Maybe with some work, we can get this race track to what it used to be, a very wide race track, running the bottom, running the middle, running the top,” he said.  

“As a race car driver, that’s what you want. You want that ability to run around and to show your skills. In superspeedways … everyone is bumping, everyone is pushing, and you can not show your skills as much.”

Chase Briscoe would be OK with a change to Texas, but he wants it to be more like a track other than Atlanta.

“If we’re really going to change and completely start from scratch, I would love another Homestead-type racetrack,” Briscoe said. “The problem is any time you build a new race track, it’s not going to be slick and worn out for a while. It’s trying to figure out what’s best to maximize those first couple of years to get it good by the end. 

“I think Homestead is a great model, if we’re going to build another mile and a half. I think we’re going to have to look at what they have, the progressive banking, the shape of the race track is different. I just think it’s a really good race track, and I think it always puts on really good racing. Anything we could do to try to match that, that would be my vote.”

Denny Hamlin just hopes some sort of change is made to Texas.

“I’d rather have another Atlanta than this, honestly,” Hamlin said. “Anything will be better than kind of what we have here.”

NASCAR shares prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer


FORT WORTH, Texas — The NASCAR garage is sharing its prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer DJ VanderLey, who was injured Thursday night in a crash during a micro sprint Outlaw race at the Texas Motor Speedway dirt track.

He suffered several fractured vertebrae and has a spinal cord injury, according to a post from his wife Jordan on her Facebook page. 

Two GoFundMe accounts have been set up to help the family with medical costs. 

VanderLey was Chase Briscoe’s engineer for four years, and they are good friends.

“I hate that it happened to anybody,” Briscoe said Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, “but for it to hit close to home has definitely been tough for me.”

Briscoe said he planned to visit VanderLey in the hospital on Saturday and that “I just hope that everybody continues to pray. That’s really all we can do at this point, trying to hope he gets better.”

Christopher Bell calls VanderLey among his best friends. VanderLey was Bell’s engineer at Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2016. 

Bell spent the night at the hospital and also picked up Jordan VanderLey at the airport when she arrived. 

Stewart-Haas Racing had a decal for VanderLey on Riley Herbst‘s No. 98 Xfinity car for Saturday’s race.

Starting lineup for Texas Cup race: Brad Keselowski wins pole


Brad Keselowski will be at the front of the field to start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 pm ET, USA Network).

Keselowski, who is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group, won the pole Saturday afternoon with a speed of 188.990, edging Joey Logano‘s 188.805.

MORE: Texas Cup starting lineup

The race is the first of three in the second round of the Cup playoffs. Round of 12 races will follow at Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 2 and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval Oct. 9.

MORE: Waffle House a headquarters for race winners

Also starting in the top five Sunday will be William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. It is McDowell’s best oval start of the season and his ninth top-10 start of the year.

Brad Keselowski wins Cup pole at Texas Motor Speedway


Brad Keselowski, hoping to extend Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s turnaround, won the pole Saturday for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

It was the second piece of good news for RFK Racing in two weeks. Chris Buescher,  Keselowski’s teammate, won last week’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the first victory for the team under the RFK banner.

Keselowski, who ran 188.990 mph, is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group. Nine of the first 14 starting positions were filled by playoff drivers.

MORE: Texas Cup qualifying results

Following in the top five Saturday were Joey Logano, William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. Playoff point leader Chase Elliott will start sixth.

“Texas is a really tough track,” Keselowski told NBC Sports. “As hot as it’s going to be, that will be even tougher.”

Race-time temperatures are expected to be in the mid-90s Sunday.

The race (3:30 p.m. ET), the first event in the second round of the playoffs, will be televised by the USA Network.