McDowell sets track record en route to pole at WWT Raceway

For the third time this year, Michael McDowell will lead the NASCAR Cup series field to green Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway.

McDowell laid down a 138.598mph lap in the final round of qualifying to secure the pole for the Enjoy Illinois 300. The lap was notable slower than his quick time from the initial group stages but proved enough to take the top spot regardless.

“I was close to messing it up,” McDowell admitted afterwards. “I had a little moment there in Turn 3, got just a little bit loose and had to catch it, but luckily was able to recover quickly and get back in the throttle.

“I’m just so proud of everybody at Front Row Motorsports. I know this is our third pole of the year, but to do it at a short track, a flat track, not a superspeedway. (I’m) really proud of everybody.”


Austin Cindric topped the charts for most of the final round with a speed of 138.134mph but lost out to McDowell in the final run of the session. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner will start on the front row for the second time this year. He’s still searching for his second pole two years after the first came at Auto Club Speedway.

Ryan Blaney took third at 137.982mph to give Ford the top three spots. Christopher Bell (137.669mph) was the quickest Toyota in fourth, followed by fellow Toyota drivers Tyler Reddick (137.585mph) and Denny Hamlin (137.505mph).

Brad Keselowski (137.392mph) slotted in seventh, with Bubba Wallace (137.300mph) taking eighth and Ty Gibbs (137.137mph) settling for ninth. Defending race winner Kyle Busch (137.020mph) was the only Chevrolet to crack the top-10.

Hamlin was quickest in Group A, beating out Cindric, Bell, Gibbs and Busch. Joey Logano topped a full-field Cup practice minutes earlier but failed to escape from the first round. He’ll start 12th in Sunday’s race.

McDowell then stole the show in Group B, setting a new track record with a 139.241mph (22.318s) lap., Blaney, Wallace and Keselowski advanced from the round, William Byron went out last but fell .032s short of Keselowski and will start 11th.

Byron’s near miss was the closest any of the Hendrick Motorsports quartet made it to the final round. Kyle Larson slotted 13th in his return to the No. 5 Chevrolet, with Alex Bowman set to roll off alongside him in 14th. Chase Elliott qualified 17th for his first WWT Raceway start since 2022. He missed last year’s race after being suspended for intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600.

Chris Buescher was a strong contender throughout most of May but will have a long way to climb to be a factor at WWT Raceway. The Texan qualified a distant 26th, alongside part-time Kaulig Racing prospect Derek Kraus.

In a unique twist, a difficult lap for Todd Gilliland meant Front Row Motorsports’ duo bookended the charts in Round 2. Gilliland will roll off on the final row in 35th.

There were no accidents throughout the session. Rain lingered in the area and threatened to end the festivities early, bringing out a caution to check the track early in Group B. But the intermittent drops weren’t enough to call off the remainder of qualifying.

A field of 36 drivers will take the green flag Sunday afternoon. They’ll be led by McDowell, who hopes the major advantages of the pole can help him earn a season-altering win.

“It’s huge here,” McDowell said of the pole position. “They’ve widened pit road by a few feet, but we’ve seen where it’s just really critical to get off pit road here. It’s tight, especially as guys do two tires, four tires. Having that first stall and being able to launch from your box and have a clean shot out will be a big deal tomorrow.

“But right now we’re going to celebrate today. We’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow morning.”

Story originally appeared on Racer