By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
After a near disaster on the opening lap, Michael McDowell rallied to finish inside the top-10 in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253.
A flat tire at the start of the race dropped McDowell’s No. 34 FR8 Auctions Ford Mustang down the running order. As the Drew Blickensderfer-led team went to work repairing the No. 34, the 2021 Daytona 500 winner dropped to the bottom of the running order.
The climb up the running order was slow for McDowell at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course. The Front Row Motorsports driver didn’t break back into the top-15 until 15 laps to go. Over the final 15 laps, McDowell scratched his way inside the top-10. In the closing laps, the NASCAR Cup Series driver ran as high as seventh. On the final lap, AJ Allmendinger slipped by for position. When the checkered flag waved, McDowell was eighth.
“Pretty much everything that could go wrong went wrong today, but this is what our team is all about, Front Row Motorsports,” explained McDowell. “We grind it out and we fought hard. We just kept the fight in it and ended up with another top 10, so pretty crazy how that all went down. It was another great run. I’m really excited to keep this momentum going. We’ve got to clean it up a little bit, but not a bad night altogether.”
Coming off of his win in the Daytona 500, McDowell lined up second on the grid in his Ford Mustang. When the field entered turn one, the Front Row Motorsports driver went wide. Two corners later, he slipped off track. McDowell limped around with a flat tire and missed the bus stop chicane. The tire carcass separated and fell onto the racing surface, bringing out the caution.
“That was way too much excitement for me,” admitted McDowell. “The FR8 Auction Ford Mustang was actually really good. We had a flat tire there coming to the green. I knew something was wrong. I should have just pitted, so I screwed that up and that hurt us a little bit. We lost track position and then missed the chicane.”
Although McDowell was lucky his Front Row Motorsports machine didn’t dig into the dirt on the first lap, the flat tire prevented him from earning stage points. Kyle Busch, wasn’t as lucky. Busch got pushed off and receiving right front damage when his No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry dug into the turf.
The eighth-place finish is the 14th top-10 in McDowell’s career. It also marked the first time that the Phoenix, AZ native has earned back-to-back top-10 finishes in his Cup Series career.
Despite the top-10 finish, McDowell slipped from fifth to sixth in the points standings. He is still locked into the playoffs via his win in the Daytona 500.
With Christopher Bell earning his first career win, both Bell and McDowell become the third duo to earn their first career Cup wins in the first two races of a season. Jim Roper and Red Byron accomplished the feat in 1949, NASCAR’s first season. Harold Kite and Tim Flock earned their first wins in the first two races of 1950.
Feature Photo Credit: NKP / NKP Photo