The driver starting dead-last, 40th, for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway didn’t make a qualifying lap on Friday afternoon. The grid printout shows his qualifying time as 0.000 seconds at 0.000 miles per hour. His name is Matt DiBenedetto, and he hopes to someday become a Cup star.
The driver starting 39th is Reed Sorenson, something of a tour veteran. The grid printout shows he needed 191.747 seconds to make a lap around the 1-mile track in downtown Dover, Del. His speed was only 18.775 mph, but that was good enough because only 40 teams showed up to fill the 40-car grid. Sorenson said a broken fuel pump ruined his effort.
NASCAR didn’t object in either case because neither driver appeared to be trying to avoid qualifying. Series spokesman Kurt Culbert said officials were made aware of DiBenedetto’s ignition problem. Culbert wasn’t aware of Sorenson’s problem until Saturday.
“That (DiBenedetto) team went through all the inspection procedures and was on pit road (waiting to qualify),” he explained. “But the car wouldn’t fire. They weren’t trying to not make a run. They wanted to go out, but the engine wouldn’t start. Mostly, we just wanted to know what was up. We’re okay when teams make a good-faith effort (but can’t make a lap). We haven’t had a situation in a really long time when a team didn’t try to qualify.”
Both drivers made practice laps on Friday, thus displaying their “good-faith” effort to compete in the Apache Warrior 400. Sorenson was 38th and DiBenedetto 31st in the pre-qualifying session. They ran in both of Saturday’s practice sessions: DiBenedetto was 32nd and 31st, and Sorenson was 36th and 32nd.
The slowest “legitimate” qualifier was almost 12 mph slower than the 160.664 mph of pole-winner Martin Truex Jr. Starting 38th on Sunday will be Jeffrey Earnhardt, whose grandfather won a pole and three races at Dover and whose famous uncle will start seventh. The fourth-generation Earnhardt drives for the Hulu-backed team of Joe Falk, whose Chevrolets have generally been among the slowest in every practice and qualifying session, and in every race this season.
But NASCAR will accept such performances because it knows a low-budget team’s fortunes can change quickly. Notably: it wasn’t so long ago that the No. 78 Furniture Row team was decent at best. Team owner Barney Visser’s organization was 1-for-271 before breaking out in 2013 behind Kurt Busch’s 16 top-10’s and 10th in final points.
Today, led by Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn, that once-struggling team from Denver has 10 victories since 2015 and is favored to be among the championship four at Homestead-Miami Speedway in justa few weeks.