A cut tire early and a brake-line failure late added up to a disappointing afternoon at Daytona International Speedway for Matt DiBenedetto and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team.
DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Mustang lined up 32nd for the start of Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 on Daytona’s road course.
After one lap, DiBenedetto had jumped up to 21st place and was inside the top 20 after five laps. Six laps later, his right-rear tire punctured and, in the process, wiped out all of the sheet metal on the right rear of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang.
DiBenedetto drove to pit road, and the Motorcraft crew patched up the damage as best they could. He rejoined the race in 37th place but still on the lead lap.
Despite the damage, he was able to run decent lap times and was running 25th at the end of the second stage.
He stayed on the track during the ensuing caution flag and restarted the race from second place. Even with seven laps of wear on his tires coupled with the aerodynamic disadvantage from the earlier body damage, he was able to remain in the top 15 for four laps.
His team, led by crew chief Greg Erwin, was executing a pit strategy that would have left the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team with an extra set of fresh tires for the finish, but that was all for naught after a right-rear brake line failure – likely due to the earlier incident - sent the No. 21 Mustang to the garage for repairs with 15 laps remaining.
The No. 21 Mustang returned to the race five laps behind the leaders and wound up 37th at the finish.
DiBenedetto said the team’s misfortunes on Sunday were strictly due to bad luck.
“At the start of the race, we were just trying to cruise up through the field,” he said. “Everything was fine. The car was OK. The Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang was probably not a race winner, but it was going to be fun to get up there and run competitively.
“Then out of nowhere, I ran over something and blew the right-rear tire to pieces. It took the whole right side off the car.”
He said he was surprised at his car’s performance considering the damage.
“Speed-wise, we could still hang in there,” he said. “I thought we could have made something out it, and then we had the problem with the brake-line.
“Everything that happened was out of our control. It was just bad luck.”
The No. 21 team will return to the state of Florida for a third-straight weekend, and will run the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Feb. 28.