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NASCAR Cup Atlanta II

Gutsy call nets Michael McDowell his best finish of the year

Several drivers stayed out when it mattered most Sunday at Atlanta (Ga.) Motor Speedway, but none went quite as far on fuel as Michael McDowell did.

The No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford went 91 laps on a single tank of fuel. The normal fuel window under green is around 65 laps.

He was close to having to pit when an incident in the middle of the pack ultimately ended the race. The rain arrived, and the final 75 laps were scrapped. 

McDowell finished fourth, earning his first top-five of the 2023 season. But most importantly, the result pushed him two points above the cut line.

The veteran driver has never made the playoffs on points alone, making the cut in 2021 after his upset win in the season-opening Daytona 500. But with seven races until the end of the regular season, McDowell now holds the 16th and final spot inside the playoffs.

“I think (crew chief) Travis (Peterson) did a great job of maximizing our track position when we needed to," said McDowell post-race. "Obviously, that pit road incident with Martin (Truex) took us out of the track position we needed, so we had to get a little bit creative there. I’m thankful to be able to recover, but really wish I’d have held those guys off at the end. We had a shot on that restart, obviously, starting on the front row. I thought I executed the start pretty well, but just couldn’t quite get clear of AJ (Allmendinger) like I needed to, but it didn’t work out. We were close, though.”

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McDowell had a shot at the lead, but it just didn't materialize for him. The race was frantic from the start, and track position was more important than anything else. McDowell suffered damage to the right-front fender after contact with Truex on pit road, but it didn't seem to hinder his efforts too much.

“It was a bit of a wild race," he said. "We were able to get to the front early on there and get some stage points and then that first stop on pit road had contact with Martin Truex and had to fix the car. It had a little bit of damage and that really set us back, but Travis Peterson did a great job calling the race and getting us track position when we needed it before the rain came. 

"Our FR8 Auctions Ford Mustang was pretty fast, even after that little bit of damage, so I think we maximized what we could right there, but we were pretty close to winning the race, too. I’m a little bit disappointed that we couldn’t hold those guys off for a couple more laps.”

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