Matt DiBenedetto says memories of Bristol NASCAR Cup loss are still 'painful'

Matt DiBenedetto is returning to the scene of the crime.

DiBenedetto is 11th in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series standings.

DiBenedetto is 11th in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series standings. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images))

The journeyman NASCAR driver was on the verge of picking up his first career Cup Series win last August at Bristol Motor Speedway after dominating the second half of the race when Denny Hamlin stole the lead with just 11 laps to go.

It was such a heartbreaking moment for the popular driver and his small Leavine Family Racing team that the first thing Hamlin did when he got out of his car was to apologize for winning the race.

Hamlin passed DiBenedetto with 11 laps to go.

Hamlin passed DiBenedetto with 11 laps to go. (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

“I’m so sorry to Matt DiBenedetto, [crew chief] Mike Wheeler. I hate it. I know a win would mean a lot to that team, but I gotta give 110 percent for FedEx and my whole team. And just sorry,” Hamlin said.

DiBenedetto called it the biggest and craziest moment of his career, but even as he prepares to race again at Bristol on Sunday, May 31, he still hasn’t seen a replay of the finish.

Hamlin consoled DiBenedetto after the race. 

Hamlin consoled DiBenedetto after the race.  (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

“I actually still to this day have not watched the end of that race.  It’s still that painful that I’ve never watched. I can’t remember what lap, but I cut it off and I can’t even watch it,” the 28-year-old said during a press call on Friday.

DiBenedetto drives for Wood Brothers Racing now and picked up his second second-place finish at Las Vegas earlier this year. He is currently 11th in the season standings, finishing in the top 20 in every race so far this year. He’ll be starting in ninth position on Sunday, right next to Hamlin in 10th, after the lineup was set through a random draw since practice and qualifying is being skipped due to restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I would say Bristol would probably be more of the nerve-wracking ones of firing off with no practice,” DiBenedetto said as he compared it to the longer tracks. “Bristol, there’s just no margin for error. It’s really, really fast.  It’s an insanely fast short track.”

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He said the car has to be dialed-in just right from the start because its set up to be more sensitive to handle the tighter turns at Bristol, and that he’ll probably watch his races from 2018 to prepare. Not because of last year’s loss, but because the rules package was similar to this year’s.

“We have the low downforce back for Bristol, which will make the racing way, way better, so I’m excited about that.”

The Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500 NASCAR Cup Series race will be broadcast on FS1 at 3:30 p.m. EDT Sunday, May 31.

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