TALLADEGA, Ala. — When the Next Gen car debuted this season, Michael McDowell believed it was his opportunity to shine. With just five races remaining left in the 2022 season, he’s done just that.
The latest example of McDowell’s career renaissance this year was in Sunday’s YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Known to be a strong superspeedway racer, the No. 34 Ford hung out in the back for the majority of the race — he finished 26th and 27th in the opening two stages. But when the pay window opened in the final stint, he was ready to cash in.
After pitting with 28 laps remaining, McDowell found himself near the front of the field, pushing Erik Jones on the inside lane. The top lane was led by Ryan Blaney and Ross Chastain. When the final caution flew with six laps remaining, the No. 34 car was slotted in third position.
In a two-lap dash at the end of regulation, McDowell pushed Blaney, who restarted on the inside line, for all he was worth. But when the checkered flag flew, it was Chase Elliott who went from fifth to first on the restart to claim his fifth victory of the season. Blaney was second and McDowell, the 2021 Daytona 500 champion, was third.
“Blaney and I did a good job staying hooked up and had a big run,” McDowell said after the race. “But when [Denny Hamlin] drug off of me, I needed to back up to the 11 a little bit quicker than I did.
“We were close to having a shot at winning the race, but to come out of Talladega with a top five and clean car is a good day — it’s just disappointing. We’ve had a great season, we’ve run really well and this was a good opportunity for us to win. We just came up a little bit short.”
The third-place result is just McDowell’s second top-five effort of the season (also finished third at Sonoma). But the No. 34 team has put together a batch of top 10 finishes, as he’s up to 12 on the season.
In his first four years combined at Front Row Motorsports, McDowell had 12 such finishes. He was quick to point out the No. 34 car placed 11th in the prior two races at Bristol and Texas, meaning he could very easily be sitting with 14.
“It’s been incredible,” McDowell said of 2022. “To run as well as we do week in and week out, I’m really proud of what we’re building at Front Row. It’s been a great season and we’re building a great program.”
For now, though, McDowell is going to get over his near triumph at Talladega. With Todd Gilliland finishing seventh, both FRM cars finished in the top 10 for the second time this year (Indianapolis road course being the first).
“Really felt like we needed that win today,” McDowell said. “Wins go a long way. We’ve got good [tracks] coming up. We’ve got the ROVAL; the Homestead test went really well. I feel good about the next few races we’ve got in front of us. Las Vegas, our mile-and-a-half program has been really good.
“Hopefully, we can keep this momentum going into the offseason and work hard on filling in the gaps on what we need to do to contend for wins every weekend.”
The Cup Series heads to the final road course of the season in the Charlotte ROVAL. McDowell, a crafty road racer, has four straight top-eight finishes when turning left and right.