SONOMA, Calif. – A few years ago, a seventh-place finish for Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell might have been a satisfying end to Sunday’s (June 11) Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway in the NASCAR Cup Series.
That was then, this is now.
McDowell ran a strong third midway through the final stage, the position in which he finished in the race one year ago.
As the laps ticked down and the Love’s Travel Stops Mustang came into its own, McDowell began to reel in Kyle Busch for second. But on lap 92, the caution flag waved for just the second time all afternoon.
Stopping for four fresh Goodyears, McDowell entered pit road behind only Martin Truex Jr. and Busch. But after a slow stop, due to what FOX Sports reported as a right-front lug nut rolling away, he exited the pits 11th.
“I [couldn’t] see anything [of the pit stop] from my point of view, and I didn’t ask,” McDowell later told Frontstretch from Sonoma’s pit lane.
Instead, the driver played cheerleader, telling his crew on the radio, “[there’s] a lot of racing left, boys and girls.”
When the green flag dropped with 14 laps to go, the driver of the No. 34 pulled a series of aggressive moves, maximizing the passing opportunities in the turns 7 and 10 braking zones.
Ryan Blaney, who’d stayed out on the final caution, found himself on the receiving end of one such move in turn 7, spinning into the grass from the bumper of McDowell’s No. 34. A lap later, Blaney spun again in turn 2 after contact with Chase Briscoe. He finished 31st.
Blaney had harsh words after the race, telling Frontstretch McDowell “dumped me.”
In the high-downforce Next Gen era it is particularly difficult to pass at Sonoma, and despite McDowell’s elbows-out driving and a tire advantage over Chase Elliott on the final run, his recovery stalled at seventh place, one spot short of his season-best sixth at Richmond Raceway.
“It takes so much to win these races,” McDowell reflected. “It only gets harder and harder every week and it doesn’t get easier. So when you have a shot, you have a car that’s close to capable of doing it, you got to get it done because you’re not guaranteed another shot at it.
“Just needed more laps … another caution … bummed to come out of here seventh. We were one of the top two cars today.”
Currently 19th in the standings just 14 points back of the cut line, and with five of the next 10 races coming on the road courses and superspeedways, which he counts among his strengths, McDowell has a serious shot at making the playoffs for what would be the second time in his career.
But despite his best efforts in the closing laps, victory at Sonoma will have to wait at least another year.
About the author
Jack Swansey primarily covers open-wheel racing for Frontstretch and co-hosts The Pit Straight Podcast, but you can also catch him writing about NASCAR, sports cars, and anything else with four wheels and a motor. Originally from North Carolina and now residing in Los Angeles, he joined the site as Sunday news writer midway through 2022 and is an avid collector (some would say hoarder) of die-cast cars.
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