NASCAR: Ryan Newman’s Matt DiBenedetto interference more than ‘driving hard’

Ryan Newman is known to drive hard no matter what situation he is in, so him arguably costing Matt DiBenedetto what would have been the first victory of his NASCAR Cup Series career was almost expected. But this time, it was a lot more than him simply standing his ground.

The last thing you want to see when leading a NASCAR Cup Series race late is a car on the tail end of the lead lap in front of you being driven by Ryan Newman.

That proved to be true for Matt DiBenedetto, who appeared to be well on his way to securing the first victory of his Cup Series career in this past Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Contact between DiBenedetto’s #95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota and Newman’s #6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford proved to be costly for DiBenedetto as the laps wound down in this 500-lap race around the four-turn, 0.533-mile (0.858-kilometer) high-banked Bristol Motor Speedway oval in Bristol, Tennessee.

It allowed Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin to close in on DiBenedetto’s slightly damaged car and take the lead away from him with just 11 laps remaining after he had led a race-high 93 laps. Hamlin went on to win the race ahead of DiBenedetto in a career-high second place.

But for Newman, this was clearly about more than simply driving hard and holding his ground, whether he realized it or not.

Yes, Newman cost Chase Elliott what would have been the first victory of his Cup Series career two years ago in a playoff race at Dover International Speedway, albeit without contact. And yes, in regard to DiBenedetto, he still would have raced him the same way regardless of this additional factor.

This additional factor? The playoff picture.

Had DiBenedetto gone on to win this race, which he likely would have had it not been for Newman’s interference, he would have locked up a playoff berth.

Considering the fact that DiBenedetto sits in 22nd place in the championship standings and only 16 drivers qualify for the playoffs, this would have moved the playoff cut line up by one position from between the 16th and 17th place drivers to between the 15th and 16th place drivers.

Newman just so happens to be the 15th place driver.

Here is the current playoff picture at the playoff cut line.

Rank – Driver, Car, Team, Manufacturer: Points (Behind)
15th – Ryan Newman, #6, Roush Fenway Racing, Ford: 603 (+14)
16th – Daniel Suarez, #41, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford: 591 (+2)
————————— PLAYOFF CUT LINE —————————
17th – Clint Bowyer, #14, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford: 589 (-2)

Right now, the difference between the 16th and 17th place driver is only two points, so Newman would have only lost two points to the playoff cut line. He would be +12 instead of +14.

Rank – Driver, Car, Team, Manufacturer: Points (Behind)
15th – Ryan Newman, #6, Roush Fenway Racing, Ford: 603 (+12)
————————— PLAYOFF CUT LINE —————————
16th – Daniel Suarez, #41, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford: 591 (-12)

However, the odds that this two-point difference remains this small before the regular season ends are minuscule, and the difference between being the driver on the bubble with a target on your back and having a buffer is invaluable.

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Ryan Newman would have driven Matt DiBenedetto the same way whether he was fighting for a berth in the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs or not. There are no two ways about it. But in this particular case, him standing his ground was about a lot more than simply driving hard, and it was completely justified.

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