The NASCAR trip to Talladega Superspeedway came to an end after Brad Keselowski made a pass on the final lap to win for the sixth time at the Alabama track. The win inched Keselowski one step closer to history, but it also overshadowed Michael McDowell’s late-race strategy. The driver of the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford Mustang finished third after making a late charge and nearly overtaking Keselowski.
McDowell met with media members after Sunday’s race to discuss another strong finish at a superspeedway, as well as his final effort to take the checkered flag. He explained during the availability that he backed up to William Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro to open up a gap between himself and Keselowski. He succeeded to a point but could not build up enough momentum to make the final pass. Byron ultimately finished second while McDowell took third.
“I was trying to drag back to the 24 just to get a little bit of gap off of Brad so I could get a run,” McDowell explained to media members. “I was able to do that. Like I said, I think I’ll have to go back and watch it. From what I could tell, I just didn’t drag Brad back enough when I got to his right rear. He did a good job of pulling to the left, kind of getting me off of his right rear.
“It was close. If the 24 would have stayed up with us, we would have definitely had the momentum,” McDowell continued. “We would have got Brad. But I understand, too, the 24 is trying to win the race. You’re trying to look out the front and the back at the same time and make a good decision.”
The 14-year Cup veteran is in the midst of his best season
McDowell entered the 2021 Cup Series season with 357 starts and 12 top-10 finishes. However, he never broke the top five or won a race. McDowell broke the trend in wild fashion, winning the Daytona 500 — a Crown Jewel race — at the start of the season after avoiding a wreck sparked by Keselowski and Joey Logano.
McDowell continued to put together strong finishes during the early portion of the season. He added two more top-10s at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the Daytona Road Course. Though McDowell experienced some struggles at Phoenix, Martinsville, and Richmond while finishing 23rd, 31st, and 27th, respectively.
Once McDowell returned to a superspeedway, he turned in another strong performance. He raced near the front of the pack for the majority of the race after initially starting 23rd. As McDowell explained after the win, adding another strong finish at a superspeedway is a massive confidence builder for the playoffs and a return to the Alabama track.
“Talladega, we’ve had speed here, but we’ve struggled to get to the finish of these races,” McDowell explained. “It’s nice to get one. I think it’s been a year or two since we’ve had a top-five here at Talladega. It’s nice to kick off the superspeedway at Daytona, then here, with solid finishes. We have two more. Yeah, we think that we’re in a good spot for these races and feel like we can contend.”
A personnel change greatly impacted the Front Row Motorsports team
Following the November championship race at Phoenix Raceway, Front Row Motorsports made a significant change. The team wooed spotter Clayton Hughes away from Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team. Hughes began working with McDowell, resulting in a Daytona 500 win and three other top-10 finishes.
“Clayton is a huge asset, a big part of our success that we’re having here at these speedway races and everywhere,” McDowell explained on Sunday. “Him and I are gelling together really well. He knows what I need, is able to give me the information so I can make good decisions. He does a great job. It’s been a big step for us this year.
“So much is chemistry and personality and how it all gels and fits. That relationship is very unique and special. It’s taken me a little while to find that. Clayton and I do really well together. We’ve had some success already, so it’s a good package and I’m thankful to have him.”
The duo will now strive to continue this run of success with a trip to Kansas Speedway. The No. 34 Ford Mustang will join the other Cup Series rides for the Buschy McBusch Race 400 on Fox Sports 1. The race will take place at 3 p.m. ET.