Like his previous trip to the playoffs in the 2021 season, McDowell and his No. 34 Front Row Motorsports team were among the first four eliminated from title contention following the completion of the first round of the playoffs Saturday night at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
This year’s first-round featured a much more competitive McDowell but like in 2021, he and his team found themselves in a desperate position to advance after wrecking out of the opening round race at Darlington.
Still, Saturday night at Bristol, McDowell ran up front virtually the entire race and tried to put himself in position to grab a win – and the automatic advancement that comes with it – if the opportunity presented itself.
Denny Hamlin’s dominant final stage run to the win, however, closed that door.
Michael McDowell, Front Row Motorsports, Love’s / Delo Ford Mustang, William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, Relay Payments Chevrolet Camaro
Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images
“It’s disappointing not to advance, for sure, but we dug ourselves such a big hole those first two races that we were in a must-win situation. We weren’t good enough to do that (at Bristol), but I’m still really proud of the speed that we brought and the effort that we brought,” McDowell said.
“We still needed a little bit more to contend for that win, but we gave ourselves a fighting chance. Unfortunately, at the end there wasn’t enough action. Normally at Bristol you get a late-race caution and get the front row beating and banging and maybe you get an opportunity, but that just never happened.”
McDowell said he considers his second career playoff trip “a learning experience.”
“We’ve had a good season. We’ve showed good speed and we’ll learn from the mistakes that we made here in this first round, and we’ll keep working hard the rest of the season to try to treat it like we are in and we’re fighting for a championship,” he said.
“Hopefully next year we will be. So, it’s a learning experience for us. It’s not what we wanted, but I’m still proud of the effort.”
McDowell, 38, said a little deeper dive into his team’s performance the past three weeks will show a marked change from 2021.
“The performance was there. I don’t want to downplay that, but we just didn’t execute well and we had some issues,” he said. “We qualified in the second round of all three races, which you need to do if you want to advance, so we got that part down.
“At Darlington, we got into that crash at the end and that’s 10-15 spots. That’s all you need to make it, so a lot of things could have gone differently that would have put us in a position to advance, but it just didn’t work out.
“It wasn’t meant to be.”
Michael McDowell, Front Row Motorsports, Horizon Hobby Ford Mustang
Photo by: Josh Tons / Motorsport Images