McDowell insists he’s not out of the game despite tough start to playoffs

Michael McDowell and his Front Row Motorsports team opened the NASCAR Cup Series postseason doing the opposite of what they hoped to.

McDowell’s night ended when he ran into the back of Denny Hamlin with 38 laps to go. The two playoff drivers were collected in a crash that started with Kyle Busch squeezing Todd Gilliland off Turn 4, which resulted in Gilliland bouncing off Austin Dillon and spinning across the track into Hamlin’s path.

“Obviously, Darlington didn’t go as we hoped it would go,” McDowell said of his 32nd-place finish. “Our goal was to go in there and not make any mistakes and unfortunately, we didn’t and ended up crashing out there in the end.”


But before that incident, McDowell and the No. 34 Ford Mustang had been struggling. Although he qualified ninth, McDowell was lapped early and complained that he’d “never been this tight before in my life.” Then early in the final stage, McDowell was busted for speeding.

A rough night pushed McDowell from 13th to last on the playoff grid. McDowell is 19 points behind a transfer spot into the next round.

“It’s not a panic, 911, must-win, have to go extreme strategy or extreme aggression because there is still room for other teams and other drivers to have some mistakes,” McDowell said. “But we definitely have to go out there and run top 10 to top five the next two weeks if we don’t win to go put ourselves in position (to advance). It’s definitely an uphill battle. But I don’t feel like we’re out of the game, like we’re out of the fight.

“We’ve had speed all year; it’s just putting it all together and we’ll probably need a little bit of misfortune from other competitors. But we’ve seen that in the first round before and in particular at Darlington, Kanas, and Bristol, there’s a lot of opportunities to not get it right.”

A positive outlook going into Kansas Speedway (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, USA) doesn’t erase the disappointment of last weekend.

“I was really frustrated and upset of how we ran and performed at Darlington because I felt like we did have all the ingredients to go out there and make a legitimate run to the next round,” McDowell said. “So, I was definitely frustrated with how that went.

“So, as far as feeling the pressure, yeah, we feel the pressure because we don’t want to go into the playoffs, get eliminated in the first round and finish 16th. That’s not what our goal was. That’s not what we hoped to achieve.

“But I’m also not in that desperation, do or die because I feel like we still have two more weeks, and we’ve seen points fluctuate a lot. We went to Indianapolis and scored over 40 points, so it’s not like you can’t make up the deficit, you’re just going to have to have really good weeks to do it. So, I’m definitely bummed how it started for us, but it’s definitely not over. We’ve still got a lot to get done, and I think we can still accomplish it.”

McDowell has a tall task ahead, not just climbing from the bottom of the playoff grid. By the numbers, Intermediate racetracks have not been McDowell’s strong suit. In the spring, McDowell finished 26th at Kansas Speedway.

An 18th-place finish in Fontana is McDowell’s best finish this season on an intermediate track, finishing outside the top 20 at all others.

“It’s a little bit of a mixed bag,” McDowell said, looking ahead to Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 in Kansas. “We feel confident going to Kansas just based off the development that we’ve had internally at Front Row with our mile-and-a-half program and downforce program in general. If you look at stats, you look at the last couple of runs there, they haven’t been great. I think we’ve been 15th or 16th, 17th, somewhere around there.

“But felt like we had more speed than that. The last time we were at Kansas, finished second in the (second) stage, ran inside the top 10. So, we’re hopeful. We’re hopeful with all the things we’ve done over the last few months to improve our program will help us there as well.”

Story originally appeared on Racer