Race Weekend Central

The Underdog House: Michael McDowell Nearly Goes 2-For-2 on Superspeedways in 2021

Top Dog: Michael McDowell

If a 2021 handbook were written on how to survive superspeedway racing, Michael McDowell would likely be the author thus far. February’s Daytona 500 Cinderella victor came just one push away from besting fellow Ford stablemate Brad Keselowski Sunday (April 25) for the win at Talladega Superspeedway.

“It means a lot,” McDowell said of another solid day at this track type. “We had that plan coming into this weekend, to make sure that we ran hard the whole race, try to get stage points, race hard, be up front all the time.

“I feel like we did well today. We scored points in all three stages.”

That he did. McDowell started the race from 23rd but quickly worked his way up to sixth by the lap 25 competition caution. McDowell jockeyed between the top 10 and top 20 in stage one before scoring three stage points in eighth.

The Phoenix, Arizona native maintained a solid running spot in stage two, once again varying between the top 10 and top 20, a typical feature at superspeedways. McDowell flexed his muscles at the end of the stage, putting himself in contention for the stage win before ultimately finishing fourth under yellow.

For a race where chaos sought and found many drivers, McDowell was largely able to avoid any threats. He kept his nose clean and ran at the front of the pack for a good majority of the final stage. In the closing moments of the race, McDowell looked to sneak his way through for a victory, just as he did at Daytona after a late incident forced NASCAR Overtime.

As drivers fought for position in the final two laps, McDowell put his No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang in the hunt for the win. A push from William Byron got McDowell a run to the back of Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford Mustang. McDowell made a move to the outside, trying to time his run in the tri-oval but came up just short. Had he timed the move a split-second later, McDowell could have possibly used more momentum to propel past Keselowski’s race-winning machine. Ultimately, he rounded out the day in third.

“I just didn’t drag Brad back enough when I got to his right rear,” McDowell explained after the race. “He kind of pulled down, which is good. I was watching the No. 24 a little bit [Byron] too much and needed to drag Brad back a little bit more.”

The top-10 result is McDowell’s fourth of 2021, matching his career high from a year ago. He also matched his career high in top-five finishes with his second such result, matching the mark he set in 2019. The result vaulted McDowell, who is currently locked into the playoffs, to 13th in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings.

Honorable Mention

Kaz Grala has faced a career of uncertainty. Grala has earned solid results in each ride he’s driven for, yet unpredictability about his future always seems to find him. It has been no different in 2021. After Grala thought he had strong backing to obtain a ride for the season, his sponsor left, leaving him in a deep hole.

Fortunately, Kaulig Racing gave him a chance to drive their Cup entry as a part-timer. Grala recently told Frontstretch that he was expected to only compete at superspeedways for the team in 2021. He is seeking to make the most of it and did so in Sunday’s GEICO 500.

See also
Kaz Grala's Talladega Top 10 'Another Piece of the Puzzle' for Full-Time Ride

Grala held back in stage one to keep his nose clean and learn the handling of his No. 16 Hyperice Chevrolet. He was able to avoid a frightening crash from Joey Logano on the stage’s final lap to finish 24th. Grala found the front pack at times during stage two and once again avoided an accident to complete the stage in 23rd.

The Boston, Massachusetts native pulled his belts tight for the final stage and sought to get in the mix. He was able to mainly stay in the draft and even found the top 15. A late caution spurred an overtime restart with Grala sitting 15th. He wasn’t done there, however, as the young driver worked his way through the draft and chaos to earn Kaulig Racing its best Cup finish in sixth.

“I was just happy to get to pilot this thing,” Grala told FOX Sports following the race. “It is few and far between when I do, but I try to make an impression on my few starts and I feel like today was a good step in the right direction. Didn’t have the best luck in Daytona, but we rebounded here.”

The result earns Grala much needed attention to possibly land a full-time ride in 2022.

Other Dogs

As expected, Talladega allowed many dogs to show their teeth with the big dogs. McDowell’s teammate Anthony Alfredo easily earned a career-best finish in 12th driving the No. 38 Speedy Cash Ford. Ryan Preece was in the mix for a large part of the day, running 14th.

Props must also be given to Erik Jones, who was leading on the second-to-last restart with 12 laps remaining. Jones got his No. 43 Chevrolet in the mix before getting turned on the final lap, ruining a likely top-10 finish. Meanwhile, Harrison Burton made his Cup debut and earned a respectable 20th-place showing for Gaunt Brothers Racing. He was in the mix for much more until a shaky restart in NASCAR Overtime.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series also graced the high banks in Alabama for the Ag-Pro 300. Brandon Brown led the way with a strong seventh-place run in a rain-shortened event. Tommy Joe Martins earned a season-best finish in 11th while Jeremy Clements guided his way to a 14th-place result. Finally, Colin Garrett made the most of his season debut for Sam Hunt Racing, coming home in the 15th position.

What to Expect Next

The Xfinity Series gets a breather this week as the Cup and Camping World Truck series follow the yellow brick road to Kansas Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports landed both of its drivers in the top 20 at the two Kansas races in 2020 with McDowell and John Hunter Nemechek, who was driving the No. 38 Ford back then.

A Tribute to “Chargin'” Charlie 

Sad news surfaced on Friday (April 23) that “Chargin'” Charlie Glotzbach had passed away at the age of 82. Glotzbach earned four wins in the Cup Series along with 38 top fives, 50 top 10s and 12 poles in 124 starts. His best points finish was fifth in 1969. That was a very respectable statistic, as Glotzbach never competed in more than 22 races in a season.

Glotzbach landed in a few underdog rides himself but was known as a hard charger who got the most out of his equipment that he could. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this time.

See also
Charlie Glotzbach Passes Away At 82

What They are Saying


About the author

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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