Matt DiBenedetto was right there, running second on the lead on the last lap at Road America — until he wasn’t.
Coming into the 4.048-mile road course’s final turn on the white-flag lap, DiBenedetto veered off the track and into the sand out of nowhere. His No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota got stuck in the pit and never made it out to cross the start-finish line. He ultimately finished 27th in the race results.
“Just being stupid on my part,” DiBenedetto told NBCSN after the race. “I was looking in my mirror, got too high and just barely got up in the marbles. Made the most rookie mistake of my life. It was dumb. It was uncalled for.”
RELATED: Road America results
DiBenedetto led a race-high 18 of 45 laps and started the race second after a strong qualifying performance. It was the first time in DiBenedetto’s career he ran out front during an Xfinity Series race, and he has been bopping in and out of the circuit since 2009. This was his first race against this level of competition in 2019.
“We could have won,” DiBenedetto said. “We had the fastest car and nothing to show for it. I drove stupid. I‘m pretty pissed off at myself. Nothing else. Won‘t sleep all week. This isn‘t exactly good when I‘m trying to make my career.”
Christopher Bell ended up winning Saturday’s CTECH Manufacturing 180, his first road-course victory ever and sixth win overall this season. Austin Cindric benefited from DiBenedetto’s mistake and took second. Tyler Reddick, Noah Gragson and Kaz Grala then made up the rest of the top five, in order.
“I‘m really heartbroken for Matt DiBenedetto, too,” Bell said. “He was obviously really, really fast. We knew from practice both of our cars were going to be really good and we were going to be right there racing with each other. I don‘t really know exactly what happened, but I saw him going flying off (Turn) 14. Man, that sucks. He‘s in a tough spot right now and needed a good run there.”
DiBenedetto runs full time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series but that series had the weekend off. He steers the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota but revealed last week that he was told he will not be returning to the team after this season.
Just days after his news became public, DiBenedetto finished the Bristol Night Race in second. There, he also led a race-high 93 laps but lost the lead to Denny Hamlin with 12 to go.
Much like Bell did, Hamlin expressed his remorse toward his competitor after the race.
NASCAR’s top national series will return to action next week with the Bojangles‘ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). DiBenedetto currently sits 22nd in the championship standings.