Michael McDowell had just one top-10 finish at a non-restrictor plate track through his first 334-career NASCAR Cup Series starts, which was a 10th-place effort at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2016. After a solid seventh-place finish in Sunday’s Big Machine Hand Sanitizer (Brickyard) 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Front Row Motorsports driver has racked up two top-10s in his last three starts in the series.
McDowell, 35, started 27th in Sunday’s race but by the competition caution on lap 12, he had knifed his way to 19th.
It looked like it would be smooth sailing for the No. 34 team, but they had to dodge a massive bullet on pit road during the competition caution period while on pit road. While McDowell was in his stall receiving service on his car, a massive nine-car crash broke out on pit road.
Justin Allgaier and Brennan Poole ran into the No. 12 car of Ryan Blaney while trying to miss the incident, injuring his rear tire carrier in the process. As the two cars hit the No. 12 machine, a tire went flying from Blaney’s pit stall.
The tire landed on the rear of McDowell’s No. 34 car, but luckily there was no major damage. After pitting again for minor repairs after the red flag was lifted, McDowell would buckle down again.
At the end of Stage 1, McDowell was 15th after pulling a pit strategy move of staying on the track late in the Stage, while the majority of the field pitted.
The Arizona-native nearly saw his great run ruined at the beginning of Stage 2, as he had a bad vibration and came to pit road for a change of tires. Shortly after the stop, the caution would come out on lap 74. Luckily, McDowell found himself in the lucky dog position and got his lap back.
The driver of the No. 34 would rebound to finish 16th in Stage 2.
In the final Stage of the race, McDowell suffered early from a car that was super loose early in a run and then ultra-tight toward the end of a run.
On their final pit stop of the day, the No. 34 team adjusted the tire pressure, and the Ford Mustang came to life.
When Denny Hamlin cut a tire and crashed from the lead with seven laps left, McDowell stayed on track and as a result he moved from 11th to ninth. McDowell would get a great restart on the green-white-checkered finish and he would go on to snag an impressive seventh-place finish.
Before leaving the track, McDowell posted a video to Twitter where he recapped his day. The driver could not contain his infectious smile in the aftermath of his best finish of the 2020 season.
“Another great finish for us,” McDowell stated with glee. “Just another solid top-10. Such a big run for us. So proud of everyone at Front Row and Bob Jenkins for giving me this opportunity. It’s taken so long to be this competitive and I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to have Carparts.com and PowerStop and Love’s Travel Stops and Fr8Auctions and all of our partners through the years — Speedco — so many great people that make this possible.”
McDowell is having a career-best season. Sunday’s run matched his career-best for top-10 finishes in a season (two) and he still has over half of the year to go. The No. 34 team has an average finish of 19.4 this season. If McDowell can keep that pace up, he’ll easily best his career best in that category as well (22.2 in 2017). Regardless, McDowell is having a blast driving race cars in 2020.
“We’re doing it. We’re doing it every week,” McDowell said. “We’re definitely way more competitive than we’ve ever been and it’s a lot of fun.”
McDowell has certainly been more competitive than he’s ever been in 2020 than in any other point of his career.
Over his first 321 starts in the NASCAR Cup Series (2008-2019), McDowell racked up eight top-10 finishes (2.5%) and 20 top-15 finishes (6.2%). In just 16 races in 2020, he has two top-10 finishes (12.5%) and six top-15 finishes (37.5%).
Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.