By Jerry Jordan, Editor
Some say that racing at superspeedways, like Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway, is a crapshoot but in reality, when you break down the numbers, there’s a handful of drivers who are usually in the mix towards the end to compete for the win. One of those drivers is Michael McDowell and he heads to Talladega knowing he has a shot to be another non-playoff driver to shake up the Cup Series.
Sporting the Love’s Travel Stop/PEAK Performance, McDowell is coming into the race with the same number of Top 10 finishes in 2022 as he had in the previous three years, combined. That’s 11 Top 10s and the last time he raced at Talladega – in the spring – he finished eighth. So, what is the secret and how has Front Row Motorsports come on so strong?
Over the past two weeks, the 2021 Daytona 500 winner and his No. 34 team have finished 11th at Bristol and Texas. It may not help his Top 10 stats but it shows how the tide is turning.
“We feel like every week, week after week, we are getting closer and closer to a win,” McDowell told Kickin’ the Tires. “I think it has just been one of those years where everything has come together. I mean, I feel like the NextGen car has helped that but at the same time, if you look at our trajectory over the last five years from where we have been going at a steady pace, I feel like this was that next step, that next kind of evolution we had to take as a team. So, yeah, it has been a lot of fun.
“I feel like we consistently run in or near the Top 10, you know making it to the second round of qualifying a bunch of times this year, qualifying well and running well. So, it’s been overall the best performance we’ve had at Front Row and the most speed that we have had in our racecars. So, it’s been a lot of fun. You know, I feel like this week is, sort of, the culmination of everything coming together and not just this week, but the ROVAL, as well. We feel like these two weeks are a great opportunity for us to win a race. Our superspeedways have been strong, our road courses have been really strong, so the next couple of weeks we have some good tracks.”
And when it comes to being around at the end of a superspeedway race, McDowell said it’s more than just luck. Some drivers can sense where they need to be based on the energy of the line and how the other cars are handling in the pack. It’s something that comes with experience, McDowell said, but it is also a learned skill.
“People talk about, ‘anybody can win’ but statistically that’s not the case if you just look,” McDowell said. “If you look at how many times Brad Keselowski has won at Talladega in the last 10 years and you look at the stats, it is really the same five to seven guys that challenge for those wins every single time we come to Talladega. And, so that really changed my mindset several years back of, okay, I just need to figure out what these guys do to constantly be in a position to win because I don’t think it’s luck. The reason I don’t think it is luck is because they do it time and time, again.
“So, I feel like there is a lot to it. Obviously, there are things that are out of your control at Talladega. But being in the right position to miss the wrecks is part of the race and it’s part of knowing where you need to be and feeling that energy, knowing what lane is going to give you the best option to miss it. Those all, kind of, equate to whether or not you can be there at the end and have a shot at winning.”
As for knowing where to run during a race at Talladega, McDowell said it has a lot to do with preparation going into the race and experience. He said he studies videos and watches and learns what has happened in previous events to help give him an edge. He explained that a lot of how he makes decisions during the race is based on gut instinct and that is different based on the scenarios playing out. Being in 15th might cause him to react differently than if he were running in third.
“When I get that feeling I am in a bad spot, I will try to reposition myself,” McDowell said. “That’s worked out a lot for me.
“If I am running 12th and it’s getting to the end of a stage and I don’t feel good where we are at, I’m okay with running 20th in that stage knowing that we are going to have a pit cycle, a restart and I can restack my cards and get back in position.”
Going into Sunday’s race with the momentum he has on the season as a whole is big for his team because it isn’t the most funder organization in the garage. So, having sponsors like Peak on the car joining with Love’s is a big deal. It shows that companies have confidence in the team and the driver and McDowell is perfectly content to stay right where he’s at with team owner Bob Jenkins.
“We are just looking forward to finishing out the year strong and excited to have Peak be a part of the program this week with Love’s Travel Stops and not just on the car but in-store promotions, as well, as at Speedcos across the nation,” he said. “I am going to stay here for as long as they will have me, they haven’t fired me, yet. I feel like we are building something and we are growing together and it’s getting better and better. And the fun thing about it is that I feel a part of that. I feel that plan and the success and growth that we are having, so I am enjoying being at Front Row. It’s a great time.”