MADISON, ILLINOIS - JUNE 01: Michael McDowell, driver of the #34 Siteman Cancer Center Ford, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Enjoy Illinois 300 at WWT Raceway on June 01, 2024 in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) | Getty Images
MADISON, ILLINOIS - JUNE 01: Michael McDowell, driver of the #34 Siteman Cancer Center Ford, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Enjoy Illinois 300 at WWT Raceway on June 01, 2024 in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Saturday World Wide Technology Raceway Notebook

Michael McDowell speeds to pole position at World Wide Technology Raceway

MADISON, Ill.—It was with an obvious sense of pride that Michael McDowell reveled in his pole-winning run on Saturday at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

McDowell claimed his third Busch Light Pole Award of the season—and of his career—but this one came at a quirky flat track, not a superspeedway, where the driver of the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford, a former DAYTONA 500 winner, is expected to excel.

McDowell toured the 1.25-mile irregularly-shaped track in 32.468 seconds (138.598 mph) in the final round of time trials to claim the top starting position for Sunday’s Enjoy Illinois 300 NASCAR Cup Series race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

In the opening round, McDowell topped all qualifiers at a track-record pace of 139.241 mph (32.318 seconds)

Fellow Ford driver Austin Cindric will start beside McDowell on the front row after a final-round lap at 138.134 mph (32.577 seconds). Cindric’s Team Penske teammate, Ryan Blaney, qualified third at 137.982 mph
Interestingly, McDowell and Cindric were the only two drivers in the final round to downshift to third gear in Turns 3 and 4 on their qualifying laps.

“In particular at Talladega and Atlanta (where McDowell won his first two poles this year), the driver’s not a big part of whether you’re going to qualify well,” McDowell said. “You still have to execute. You still have to get through the gears. I don’t want to take anything away from that standpoint, but it really is a matter of how fast a race car your team brought you.

“Even today, we’re on the pole because I have a really fast race car. I had more pressure to execute my part on a flat track like this, where you’re upshifting twice, downshifting twice… heavy brake zones—all those things. So it’s more rewarding from that point to go out there and execute and do it.”

Christopher Bell, last Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 winner, was fourth fastest at 137.669 mph. Tyler Reddick qualified fifth, followed by Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace, Ty Gibbs and Kyle Busch, last year’s winner at WWTR.

Busch was the only Chevrolet driver to make the final round. For the first time this season, no Hendrick Motorsports driver qualified in the final 10.

Reality of Stewart-Haas closure hits home with Noah Gragson

In his heart, Noah Gragson knew the news was coming, but the actual announcement that Stewart-Haas Racing was shutting down at the end of the season still struck like a body blow.

On Tuesday, when team co-owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas told their employees of the impending closure, rumor became reality.

“You see all the rumors, and you kind of hear different rumors and whatnot,” Gragson said Saturday at World Wide Technology Raceway. “If it just came out cold turkey and you didn’t hear anything about it, it would be like ‘Whoa!’

“But we kind of saw it coming a little bit, so it didn’t hit us as hard, but when you hear those words from Tony, it’s a little different from seeing it on social media—when it’s a reality.”

In his first season at Stewart-Haas, Gragson is well on his way to rehabilitating his career after drawing a NASCAR suspension and losing his ride at Legacy Motor Club for “liking” a racially insensitive post on social media last year.

Gragson has scored five top-10 results in 14 starts this season, including a best result of third at Talladega in April. Last year he had no top 10s in 21 starts with Legacy.
It would be naïve to suggest that Gragson hasn’t started to think about where he’ll land in 2025. Nevertheless, he’s determined to make the most of the remainder of the current season.

“I keep on preaching to our guys and our group that we can only control what we can control,” said Gragson, who won eight NASCAR Xfinity Series races with JR Motorsports in 2022 before moving to NASCAR’s top division.

“We have an opportunity this weekend, and we’re not even halfway through the season yet. “We have a lot more races and weekends to enjoy together and to become a race team that’s championship level.”

NASCAR Hall of Fame selection shocked former driver Carl Edwards

Perhaps it’s simply humility that accounts for Carl Edwards’ low expectations on May 21 Voting Day for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Whatever the case, Edwards was so convinced that he wouldn’t be elected to the Hall that he ignored a suggestion to be available by phone that afternoon and was on a plane when the results were announced.
After he landed, Edwards received a text from long-time communications manager Randy Fuller that he was part of the Class of 2025, along with fellow driver Ricky Rudd and team owner Ralph Moody.

“I didn’t expect this in any way,” Edwards said in a Zoom conference with reporters on Thursday. “I was shocked. I actually wasn’t available at 4 p.m. when they announced it, because I thought there’s no reason to be.

“It’s been a huge deal to me, much bigger than I ever would have expected.”

Edwards retired from NASCAR racing suddenly and unexpectedly after the 2016 season. He ended his career with 28 NASCAR Cup Series victories and two second-place finishes in the series championship.
The 44-year-old from Columbia, Missouri, also collected 38 victories and one title in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Last year, he was named one of NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers.

“The longer I’ve been away, I appreciate the sport more and more,” Edwards said. “Last year, just the honor of being part of those 75 drivers–it shocked me how much fun it was to come back to Darlington to be a part of that.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is the longer I’m away, the more I appreciate it, and this honor (the Hall of Fame) is over the top.”

— NASCAR News Wire —