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Needing a win, McDowell says "It hurts to finish second"

Michael McDowell made a marvelous recovery for a runner-up finish Sunday at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, but a win is what he needed most.

Michael McDowell, Front Row Motorsports, Love's Travel Stops Ford Mustang

McDowell, who typically runs well on road courses and superspeedways – and has won on both in the NASCAR Cup Series – saw Sunday’s race has a prime opportunity to earn his first win of the 2024 season.

For McDowell, a win is likely the only way he makes the 16-driver playoff field after a rough start to the season that has him mired in 20th in the standings.

At the newly repaved 1.99-mile road course, McDowell’s No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford was fast in practice and qualifying. He started 12th in the race and ran a solid first stage.

But after getting shuffled back in the field on pit strategy, McDowell got collected in an incident with Noah Gragson and Austin Cindric shortly after a restart in Stage 2 that forced him to pit for repairs.

Still, with a 51-lap green flag run to end the race, McDowell slowly ran down the leaders and when Martin Truex Jr. ran out of fuel at the start of the final lap, McDowell – briefly anyway – saw a sliver of hope for a win.

Kyle Larson hung on to beat McDowell by more than four seconds for the win and McDowell was left with an impressive comeback, but his playoff hopes shrinking.

Michael McDowell, Front Row Motorsports, Love's Travel Stops Ford Mustang

Michael McDowell, Front Row Motorsports, Love's Travel Stops Ford Mustang

Photo by: Ben Earp / NKP / Motorsport Images

“The first stage went well for us, just kind of executing our plan and our strategy, but, unfortunately, when we got towards the back on that restart and they piled up in the esses we just got drove into and into the barriers,” McDowell said.

“That really hurt our track position because then we had to come back down pit road and fix the damage and that kind of killed our chances of restarting up front when it did cycle out, but, fortunately, we had a really fast (car).

“We were able to get about half of them back before the end of Stage 2, and then the last stage we just had to fight really hard to get track position.”

The encouraging yet frustrating part of Sunday’s race for McDowell was he believed his team showed it had the potential for a much-needed victory.

“I feel like we had the speed, which it hurts. It hurts to finish second,” he said. “We desperately need a win to make the playoffs, but I’m proud of the effort and proud of the speed we had.

“Just a little bit short.”

McDowell said he would likely have needed some help in the final laps to have a chance at catching Larson once Truex fell to the wayside.

“I was pushing pretty hard. I don’t know how much more I could have got,” he said. “I needed (Larson) to battle with (Truex) a little bit more and even (Chris Buescher) because when he came out on new tires, he was just quicker than us.

“I couldn’t hold him off, but I knew in the long run we could probably balance out and have a little bit of speed. Our long run was our strength. It’s just a shame.”

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