After a tumultuous week that saw Matt DiBenedetto lose his ride for 2020, he nearly pulled off the impossible Saturday night at Bristol.
Starting 7th with a fast car, DiBenedetto stayed in contact with the Top 10, led the most laps of the evening (93) and battled pole sitter Denny Hamlin for the win. Hamlin passed Matt with 11 laps to go after lapped traffic and Ryan Newman held DiBenedetto up a bit.
In order to win, you have to be able to play the game 100% right. Hamlin did that and DiBenedetto didn’t. Newman was fighting to stay on the lead lap and gain every point he could to try and make the playoffs. He let Newman slow him down and Matt D played nice. That wins him points with fans and drivers but might have kept him from his first career Cup win. Now I know that is speculation considering just how good Hamlin was, but it would have been even more interesting to see what those two had for each other with no interference from other cars.
Had DiBenedetto won, it would not have only been the feel-good story of the year for NASCAR, but it would also have set the playoffs on their head. Right now, Ryan Newman sits in the last playoff position as the teams head to Darlington in 2 weeks. You think that 11th place finish didn’t mean much? Ask Jimmie Johnson who finished in 19th and is 26 points out. Or Clint Bowyer who spun out and finished 7th – and who is sitting 2 points out of the playoffs. Or ask Daniel Suarez who got another Top 5 and sits 2 points above the cut off.
This is what you have to look forward to through The Brickyard, the final race of the regular season. There will be plenty of drama the next two weeks as teams who are going to be in the playoffs work to mitigate errors, like Kevin Harvick losing his transmission at Bristol, and teams on the bubble strive to beat the driver next to them in points. Darlington is up next and that is usually a good race on an unforgiving track. Indianapolis is not usually a good race but we’ll see what the tapered spacer and lower speeds brings to that race. For those who survive Darlington, this will be the last gasp for the 2019 season. The Brickyard is known as a track position race with passing very difficult. Bubble teams may employ different strategies to make sure they move on. A new winner, like Kyle Larson, will effectively end the season for someone.
And for the rest of this past week, it was marred by the incredible crash video of the plane carrying Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his family. The plane came down hard, bounced and lost part of the main landing gear. The plane ran off the runway and settled near the local highway, bursting into flames. It was nearly 20 seconds before the door opened and Earnhardt and his family and pilots emerged. No one was seriously hurt but you can rest assured that the thought of a burning plane crash will stay with them for a long time to come. Thank God they are all OK. The NTSB is still investigating the crash.
(Featured image courtesy of NASCAR Media)