Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Daytona 500 Marks Return to Top-Five for Michael McDowell

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When the checkered flag was finally in sight Sunday night, Michael McDowell was fed up with the lack of respect his Ford teammates were showing him throughout the Daytona 500 and he had one goal in mind: win the whole damn thing.

And he nearly pulled it off, bringing home a top-five finish for himself and Front Row Motorsports – McDowell’s first top-five since Daytona in the summer of 2017.

Restarting fourth on the second attempt at an overtime finish, McDowell lost some ground on the final restart, but slotted in behind Kyle Busch down the backstretch before briefly joining forces with fellow Blue Oval driver Joey Logano.

Moving back to the high side of the track behind Busch, McDowell elected the faster Toyota to work with for the final half-lap, but wasn’t able to make any forward progress and would have to settle for fifth place when all was said and done.

Pulling up to a stop on pit road after the race, Logano walked over to McDowell’s car, with the two having a conversation about why two of the only Fords remaining in the race didn’t work together in order to get one of them to victory lane.

“I would have loved to work with Joey, but he was moving left to right,” McDowell said of the final run to the finish. “The 18 had a big run, a lot of momentum and Joey had a lot of damage.  The back of his car was completely smashed, no rear bumper, a parachute hanging out of it.  Joey wasn’t gonna win the race.  I wanted to put myself in the best spot to win the race and the Fords weren’t that friendly to me this weekend.

“I just told him that my team doesn’t pay me to push Joey Logano to a win.  That’s not what I get paid to do.  At 200 miles an hour I made a split-second decision on what was the fastest car and who had the best shot of winning the race and that’s where I went.

“That’s what is so frustrating. You’ve got guys that are like ‘Hey, why didn’t you go with me?’ Well, because every time I’m in the front, you shook me out. So, what makes you think I’m going to push you to a win when you leave me high and dry the whole entire day?”

While the finish marked a return to the top-five for McDowell and FRM, it was also bittersweet for him, given how close he was to his first career victory in the Cup Series.

“For a small team, it’s awesome,” said McDowell. “There’s no doubt about it, but I’d be lying to you all if I told you I was over the moon excited.  I’ve been in the Cup Series over 10 years now.  I have one goal and one goal only and that’s to get a win.

“I was close to getting there tonight or at least had a shot at it and wasn’t able to get it done at the end.  I’m happy with the finish.  I’m proud of the team, but that wasn’t the goal.”

Though his starting position in the race matched his car number, 34, McDowell bided his time working his way through the field, avoiding the carnage in the closing laps to break into the top-10.

However, the race was far from over and more calamity was still to come.

With two laps to go, McDowell was right in the thick of the battle, when Clint Bowyer passed him on the inside and tried to squeeze up in front before he was clear, sending Bowyer spinning off of McDowell’s nose and collecting a handful of cars in the process. Not to mention, bringing out the second red flag of the night.

Escaping the final melee unscathed, it was game on for McDowell and he made the most of the opportunity, even if it ended with a bit of frustration at the lack of help he received in the event,

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.