SONOMA, Calif. – In the last 11 laps of Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, Matt DiBenedetto passed seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson for fifth place and 2014 champion Kevin Harvick for fourth.
When the race ended, the driver of the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota was closing on third-place finisher Ryan Blaney before running out of laps. But DiBenedetto nevertheless scored the best result of his career, eclipsing the sixth he posted at Bristol on April 17, 2016.
RELATED: Official race results
“I’m just so lucky to be doing this,” an elated DiBenedetto said after the race. “My path to get here has been so out of the ordinary and old-school, and I’m so thankful. I can’t tell you how many people took a chance on me to have this opportunity.”
One of those people was the late J.D. Gibbs, the former president of Joe Gibbs Racing who was inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame on Thursday night.
“It was so much fun — my home state,” DiBenedetto said of his run. “This one is for my buddy, AJ Allmendinger, for helping me so much.”
DiBenedetto also had some parting words for NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip, who on Sunday at Sonoma called his last race as an analyst for FOX Sports. DiBenedetto drove a throwback No. 95 Toyota with a retro design to honor one of Darrell Waltrip’s earliest rides.
“DW, this one’s for you, brother,” DiBenedetto said. “I’m glad we got you a good finish. You’ve done so much for me. You’re the best.”
Career best P4 heck yea!! This was a special one having my family here at my home track. I can?t even express how thankful I am for my team…they deserved this one!! pic.twitter.com/bps3xTaqRI
— Matt DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) June 23, 2019
DiBenedetto’s first top-five finish came in his 156th premier series start. The 27-year-old driver’s personal best helped to stem some of the rough patches in his first season with Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 operation.
Contributing: Staff reports