Michael McDowell tackled the lady in black during the Bojangles’ Southern 500 on Sunday, earning his best finish at the infamously tough track.
McDowell and Leavine Family Racing (LFR) struggled to find speed during the two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) practice sessions on Friday, and Saturday brought similar results with the team qualifying 30th for the 500-mile race on Sunday. The team worked tirelessly during the remainder of the weekend in preparation for Sunday night’s race under the lights.
As the Bojangles’ Southern 500 began, McDowell immediately moved up multiple spots into the Top-25 where he would run the majority of the race.
The first caution flag fell on lap 16, and McDowell communicated to the team that his No. 95 Chevy was slightly tough handling, but didn’t want to change much until fresh tires were put on.
McDowell restarted 22nd where he ran until the second caution flag fell on lap 40. Crew Chief, Todd Parrott, called for a pit stop to get tires, fuel and a right rear chassis adjustment to help McDowell’s now loose-handling car.
McDowell finished the first stage 22nd and was the first car one lap down, earning himself the Lucky Dog spot. He would start the second stage in 22nd and back on the lead lap.
The next caution fell just under 20 laps later, allowing McDowell to make a pit stop under caution. He gained spots on pit road and restarted 19th on lap 131.
McDowell ran in the 19th spot for most of the remaining laps of the second stage, until a caution flag fell with three laps to go.
At the start of the final stage, McDowell ran as high as 15th and avoided an early caution at the restart. He continued to run in the Top-20 for the remainder of the race as Todd Parrott called him in for pit stops under long green flag runs.
With 20 laps remaining, McDowell was the second car one lap down fighting for the Lucky Dog spot, should there be a caution. The race ended under a green flag run, and McDowell earned not only his best finish at the track, but LFR’s 12th Top-20 of the 2017 MENCS Season.
“We had a great run tonight at Darlington,” said McDowell. “I had one mishap on pit road, which messed up our strategy a bit. I missed pit road when Todd (Parrott) told me to pit, so I had to wait a lap. Fortunately, I don’t think that messed us up too bad and we were able to salvage a good finish after a tough weekend.”
Next up for McDowell and LFR is the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway, where they look to improve on their best finish of 12th.