Matt DiBenedetto celebrates after huge finish at Bristol
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) As Carl Edwards celebrated his victory at Bristol with a backflip, Matt DiBenedetto was near tears on pit road.
The little-known racer was celebrating a sixth-place finish, which to DiBenedetto and his tiny team was equivalent to winning the championship.
''That's probably tougher than what we did,'' Edwards said of DiBenedetto's improbable finish Sunday on the Tennessee short track. ''That's a real testament to them. He seems like a really great guy. That's neat.''
DiBenedetto is in his second season driving for BK Racing, a small, underfunded team that races each week behind NASCAR's heavyweights. No one expects the 24-year-old to be in contention for anything because teams like BK Racing aren't on the same level as Joe Gibbs Racing or Hendrick Motorsports.
Before Bristol, DiBenedetto's best career finish was 20th at Phoenix in March. It was the only top 20 of his career, and DiBenedetto's average finish last year was 32nd.
But those numbers aren't always indicative of talent, and a driver must make do with whatever resources the team owner can afford. For BK Racing, DiBenedetto's finish was just the second in the top 10 for an organization that's been racing in the Sprint Cup Series since 2012.
DiBenedetto had minimal expectations for Bristol.
''We're like, `Man, if we can run top 20, that's a great day,''' he said. ''A top 15 is like a win. Sixth? I can't even fathom it.''
DiBenedetto's parents moved the family to North Carolina so their teenage son could pursue real opportunities in NASCAR. He landed a development deal with Gibbs in 2009 when he was 17, and it led to seven Xfinity Series races. But when the sponsorship dried up, so did DiBenedetto's chance with Gibbs.
He ran in the K&N Pro Series East in 2011, then was a start-and-park driver for seven Xfinity Series races in 2012. He made six starts in 2013, then attempted to run all of 2014 although he parked in most of the races.
''I thought my career was over countless times,'' he said. ''I got down, but I kept on digging deep. I said, `If I don't give this everything I have, I'll regret this the rest of my life.' I don't ever want to think back and say, `I wonder if I could have been racing with those guys.' ''
He showed Sunday he can race with NASCAR's stars
INDY 500-PENSKE: Chevrolet officials have picked Roger Penske to drive the pace car in next month's 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Penske is celebrating his 50th year as a team owner, and Chevrolet will use a unique version of the new 2017 Camaro SS 50th Anniversary Edition to pace the field in the historic running of ''The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.''
It will be the ninth time a Camaro has been used as the pace car, and the 27th time for Chevrolet in a relationship that dates back to 1948.
''Chevrolet and the Indianapolis 500 have a long, storied history and it's an honor to mark the respective milestones of the Indy 500 race and the Camaro simultaneously,'' said Mark Reuss, executive vice president of Global Product Development and Global Purchasing and Supply Chain.
Penske won his record 16th Indianapolis 500 last year when Juan Pablo Montoya took the checkered flag. Penske drivers started their roll of winning at Indy in 1972 with Mark Donohue's victory. It came five years after Penske had transitioned from driver to team owner.
Four identically prepared pace cars will lead the race and all will be marked to commemorate the 100th running of the race.
PRITCHETT-CHARLOTTE: A week after suddenly losing her job, Leah Pritchett will be back in action this weekend when the NHRA races at Four-Wide Nationals at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Pritchett will drive the Nitro Ninja Top Fuel dragster owned by the Lagana family. The car will be primarily sponsored by FireAde 2000, with associate backing from Boninfante Friction and Aerodine Composites Group. Pritchett had been driving for Bob Vandergriff Racing and she picked up her first career Top Fuel victory at the NHRA Nationals in Phoenix in February. But Vandergriff unexpectedly retired last week and shut down his team.
''It has been a whirlwind of a week,'' said Pritchett. ''Having partners able to come in clutch at the last moment enables me to enter one more race at this time and will help me stay relevant. This will also buy me a bit more time to work on sufficient funding for the rest of the season to compete with a readily available team.''