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McDowell: "We legitimately had the pace" to challenge Truex

Michael McDowell got a solid finish in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway but what he lost – a shot at the win – was particularly painful.

It was clear McDowell had a fast No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford all weekend, starting with Saturday’s practice and qualifying, where he advanced to the final round and earned his best starting position (third) of the season.

He was equally good in Sunday’s race, finishing fifth in the first stage and eighth in the second and set himself up in position to challenge for the win.

By late in the race, McDowell, 38, was doing well keeping pace with eventual winning Martin Truex Jr. when a caution sent most of the lead-lap cars – including McDowell – down pit road for new tires.

A costly pit stop

McDowell was hoping to at least come out behind Truex and Kyle Busch – or even supplant them – but instead trouble struck. The tire changer dropped a lug nut while changing the right-side tires and was forced to use a spare on his belt to complete the stop.

The delay was costly, dropping McDowell back to 12th when the race restarted with 15 laps remaining. He managed to rally for a seventh-place finish but lost the chance to battle for the win.

“We ran good all weekend. We had a top five, top three car. I think we legitimately had the pace to run with (Truex) there,” McDowell said. “We were starting to run him back down on that long run and that last pit stop hurt us.

“I’m proud of everybody at Front Row. They brought a really fast car and we had a shot at it. We almost executed all day, it’s just that last stop. I felt like we had a car that could contend today, so proud of the effort.

“We needed the win, and we just didn’t do it.”

McDowell did come away with his third top-10 finish of the 2023 season but since he was 20th in the series standings coming into the race, a win remains his most viable path to making the playoffs.

While losing out on an opportunity for a win is difficult any time, it was particularly hard for McDowell since he and his team had until that pit stop had a near-flawless weekend.

“Our pace was good all day. It wasn’t a fluke. We qualified well and ran up there,” McDowell said. “We had really good long-run speed, but just needed to fire off a bit better.

“I just needed that last stop to go smooth and come off pit road third or second and have a shot of winning the race. We didn’t do it.”

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