Top Dog: Michael McDowell
Pit strategy can turn anyone’s day around. Especially at a track like Richmond Raceway.
It can change anyone’s day in the blink of an eye if everything falls into place.
Coming off a strong comeback last weekend at Circuit of the Americas, Michael McDowell looked to start a good streak heading into Richmond. Coming into the weekend, his best career Richmond finish was 12th in 2016, the same position he finished in last week at COTA. However, his best finish with Front Row Motorsports coming into this weekend was 21st in 2019.
Starting in 15th due to rain, McDowell started with considerably better track position compared to his average start of 26.3 over his career at Richmond.
Throughout most of the day, McDowell ran cleanly inside the top 20 and settled in around 18th place alongside teammate Todd Gilliland.
With about 54 laps to go, what could have been the final round of pit stops started and most everyone would come in except for three: McDowell, Gilliland and Josh Berry. This was most definitely a bold move by the underdog team, withstanding the average yellow flag in the spring Richmond race takes place with around 83 laps to go coming into the race.
It would take a miracle from somebody for McDowell to keep that track position.
With 29 laps to go, McDowell got his wish. Tyler Reddick, who struggled with an ill-handling racecar, spun going into turn 1 on the inside of Kevin Harvick, allowing the strategy to work perfectly for the three gamblers. McDowell would settle in fifth at the time of caution but fall back to ninth after final pit stops.
After a spin by William Byron on the restart, McDowell would make his way back to seventh and on the final run, the 38-year-old from Phoenix, Ariz. would pass a contender for the win, Martin Truex Jr., for sixth and hold off Joey Logano for the spot, slicing his career-best finish at the track in half.
Capturing his season-best finish was exactly what McDowell and his team needed for keeping it close in the points standings. His top-10 result improves his average finish for the year to a respectable 17.6, and McDowell looks to continue the streak of good finishes heading into the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track next weekend.
There was a quartet of drivers that impressed at Richmond.
Gilliland fought back early after receiving an early pit-road penalty in the race at the competition caution for equipment interference. The driver of the No. 38 Ford Mustang battled his way up the field until he found himself right behind his teammate McDowell.
As mentioned earlier, Gilliland had also gambled with his teammate and found the same luck as McDowell after the Reddick caution. However, he fell outside the top 10 before the caution came out and was mired back in 15th where he finished the race. A good result for the young gun from Sherrills Ford, N.C.
Another very impressive run by a driver making his first-career start in the NASCAR Cup Series was Kaulig Racing’s Chandler Smith. The Xfinity Series rookie, who won at Richmond in Saturday’s (April 1) Xfinity race, turned heads at the end of the Cup race with a solid 17th-place finish.
The young 20-year-old fought back after being a lap down for most of the race and getting penalized for an uncontrolled tire to earn a top-20 result for the team, beating out both of his Cup Series regular teammates.
Burton had a moment with getting in front of the leaders late, but he competed for a top-20 finish for the majority of the race. After taking the wave-around and getting the Byron caution soon after, Burton capped his day 19th, a good result for the sophomore driver.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy a day for LaJoie. The host of Stacking Pennies stayed outside the top 20 for a majority of the day but found himself just outside by the end of it. He salvaged a respectable 21st place, tying his career-best finish at Richmond.
Who’s in the Doghouse?
The Kaulig drivers of AJ Allmendinger and Justin Haley seemed to be invisible all day. Both drivers started the race deep in the field, starting 25th and 29th, respectively, and pretty much stayed there the whole race, finishing 27th and 29th while being outshined by the young Smith. Today certainly wasn’t the result both drivers were looking for, especially for Haley, who will be battling the appeals panel this week.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. looked fast at the start of the race, running fifth before the competition caution, but brake issues plagued him during the first pit stop and he had to go behind the wall to fix his car. The 2023 Daytona 500 winner had to settle for a disappointing 35th-place finish.
LEGACY MOTOR CLUB also disappointed heavily on Sunday with both cars. Erik Jones finished multiple laps down in 31st while his teammate, Noah Gragson crashed out of the race with 95 to go, finishing dead last in 37th as the only early-car retirement of the race.
Ty Dillon finished the race. That’s where the good stops. He finished two laps down in 32nd. His season with Spire Motorsports continues down the downward spiral.
Underdogs Who Built the Sport
Celebrating NASCAR’s 75th anniversary, let’s throwback to a classic underdog who hails from Virginia and could tame the Richmond Raceway for decades.
Lennie Pond (1940-2016) hailed from Ettrick, Va. and started racing in NASCAR in 1969, making his first start at Rockingham. He ran 234 races in the span of two decades. He earned his only career win at Talladega, an underdog’s friend, in 1978 for owner Henry Rainer.
He finished top five a total of 39 times and top 10 88 times. He finished his career with an average finish of 17.9.
The underdog driver was no slouch when it came to Richmond. He made 24 starts at the track and finished runner-up three times, top five six times and top 10 nine times. He competed valiantly at Richmond over the years but couldn’t get into victory lane at a track he ran well at over the years.
In his final career start in 1989, he ran at Richmond and finished a very respectable 11th place to close out his NASCAR career. A fitting end for a Virginian who loved to race.
What They’re Saying
Michael McDowell (sixth) and Todd Gilliland (15th):
Small Team Scheme of the Week
Anthony Alfredo piloted the Live Fast Motorsport entry for the first time this season. He started his first Cup race since 2021 and graced the field with his bright blue Dude Wipe scheme once again. Alfredo, who celebrated his 24th birthday this week, was certainly a car that everyone noticed on track. Not necessarily because of performance, but certainly because of looks. Alfredo brought his beautiful Chevrolet Camaro in 33rd position.
About the author
Wyatt Watson has been an avid fan of NASCAR since 2007 at the age of 8. He joined Frontstretch in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter.
Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime
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