Michael McDowell reflects on David vs. Goliath effort at Daytona

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In many ways, Sunday’s final lap of the Daytona 500 was a classic David vs. Goliath situation for Michael McDowell.

There was McDowell as David, in the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford Mustang, doing battle with the Goliath likes of eventual winner Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.

Although Logano complained post-race that McDowell should have pushed him on the final lap, as they both drive Fords, McDowell chose to push Busch’s Toyota instead, hoping for an even higher finish than the fifth-place showing he scored.

McDowell was on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s On Track with Danielle Trotta and Brendan Gaughan Tuesday afternoon and talked about his finish, what he might have done different, and Logano’s post-race seething.

MORE: Bump & Run: Should Michael McDowell have pushed fellow Ford at end of Daytona 500?

McDowell made it very clear that he was going for the win, and whether or not that may have hurt Logano’s feelings, he was more concerned about seeking the best finish in his Cup career – and potentially his first win.

“You know you’re not going to have 100 opportunities to be in the top three or four of the Daytona 500 and have a shot at winning the race,” McDowell said. “I was just laying everything on the line.”

While he admitted he “wasn’t able to keep the momentum going and pull it off” on the final lap, McDowell said he was caught up in the moment and was battling perhaps as hard as he ever has in a race.

“You’re fighting as hard as you can just to stay wedged up in that top five, and knowing you have some really fast cars around you, you go on both offense and defense,” McDowell said. “We didn’t quite have the outright speed we needed to be a line leader, so to speak, so you’re guarding the front and back and trying to keep yourself wedged up in there and not spit out.

“Coming to the white flag, I was on the outside kind of by myself a little bit, and I knew eventually they were going to fan out. I was able to get some big momentum on the back straightaway. You watch the replay 100 times and say, ‘Man, I wish I would have done this, this or this.’ But in the moment, you make your decision and stick with it. It’s great to get out of there with a top five.”

When asked about the criticism from Logano about not pushing a fellow Ford driver, McDowell broke things down into two parts: the race, and the post-race.

“It’s the last lap of the Daytona 500, I don’t care who’s in front of me,” he said. “I would love to tell you I was that smart and strategic and I was thinking about all the drivers and manufacturers and who to go with and who not to go with, but I’m not, I’m fighting my tail off just to stay wedged up in there. That’s the reality of what happened on the racetrack.

“The off-track part is where my comments came from and why I was upset. Joey was livid that I didn’t go with him. He was talking he was driving a Ford, brand loyalty, pointing to the blue oval and I get it. If I could have, I would have loved to do it.

“It all sounds good in a fairy-tale world, but in reality, I made the decision I made and it was the last lap of the Daytona 500. It is what it is. I wasn’t crying when Clint Bowyer put me three-wide on the back straightaway. I’m a Ford, I’m leading the pack, stay with me. That’s not racing. So I take it with a grain of salt, emotions are high and everybody’s wanting to win and we were all going for it. I’m sure Joey would have loved for me to push him, but it just didn’t work out.”

It was McDowell’s second-best career finish at Daytona. His best effort there was a fourth-place finish in the July 2017 Coke Zero 400. In 16 career starts at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, McDowell has two top-fives and four top 10s (all in his last six starts there).

“Somebody told me I had 6 or 7 top 10s at Daytona and I said, ‘No way, you’re out of your mind,’” McDowell said. “But over the years, it’s just worked out well for me there. I love plate racing and superspeedway racing and I’ve grown to enjoy it.”

McDowell’s Daytona performance boosts his confidence. He believes his first in Cup could pbe coming.

“That’s what’s cool about our sport, you’re only one race away,” he said. “You’re one race away from being in the playoffs, you’re only one race away from winning the 500, and you’re only one race away from locking down another great sponsor and making your program better. Every race counts, every opportunity counts. It’s just a matter of making the most of it.”

“There’s opportunity in the first five to 10 races (with the new rules package intended to tighten the field) that if you get a late-race green-white-checker restart, you weasel your way into the top five, you can put yourself into a spot like we were in at Daytona. I don’t think that was possible last year. The speed differential between the haves and have-nots was so big that you weren’t going to sneak a win.

“I really do believe that there’ll be surprise winners this year and some crazy, exciting finishes. I do look forward to it.”

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NASCAR America Presents MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN with Kyle Busch

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This week’s episode of NASCAR America’s MotorMouths airs today from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features 2015 Cup champion Kyle Busch.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver joins Rutledge Wood and Kyle Petty to discuss this week’s news as well as take fan phone calls.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Chevrolet boss happy with three-race Cup winning streak but wants more

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Even with a three-race Cup winning streak, the head of Chevrolet’s NASCAR program wants more victories as the playoffs near.

Jim Campbell, vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevrolet, made the comments Wednesday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

In the last three races, Chevrolet has won with Alex Bowman (Chicagoland Speedway), Justin Haley (Daytona International Speedway) and Kurt Busch (Kentucky Speedway). Until that string, Chevrolet had won only once this year with Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega Superspeedway.

Last year, Chevrolet had four Cup wins, its fewest victories in Cup since scoring three wins in 1982.

“We have really, really, I think, increased the collaboration (among Chevrolet teams) to another level, and I think we need to because we’ve got to put more wins on the board,” Campbell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The Chevy camp is used to putting 10, 12, 15 wins on the board a year. Right now we’re at four. We expect more of ourselves. I know the teams are looking for more wins and I’ll call it top-five finishes. Talladega was kind of a turbocharger for us to get everyone really working at the next level.”

Chevrolet won at Talladega after an increased effort to have its teams work together throughout the weekend and during the race. Chevrolet made the effort after seeing how successful Toyota and Ford teams were at Daytona and Talladega by working together. Until then, Chevrolet had allowed its teams and drivers to go their own way at those tracks.

“Over the years, Chevy results were pretty doggone strong without a massive work-together effort,” Campbell said during the radio interview. “I think we go back to ’16 and Toyota put together an effort to get some of the (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) guys working together and I think in the fall, the Ford camp was doing that. So, it was time, it was time that we just pulled ourselves together and really worked across all of our teams.”

With seven races left until the Cup playoffs begin, Chevrolet has three drivers set for the playoffs via wins: Elliott, Bowman and Busch. Chevrolet also has three competitors who would qualify for the 16-driver playoffs as of today via points with William Byron 12th in the standings, Kyle Larson 13th and Jimmie Johnson 15th.

Johnson’s position is tenuous. He is 10 points ahead of Ford’s Ryan Newman, who holds the first spot outside a playoff position.

“I look at the trajectory,” Campbell said of Chevrolet’s progress. “Are we on the trajectory up or are we flat or are we down? I would say the momentum is going up, but it’s all performance based. We’ve got to put wins on the board, more top 10s.”

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AJ Allmendinger to drive in Watkins Glen Xfinity race for Kaulig Racing

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NASCAR On NBC analyst AJ Allmendinger will climb back behind the wheel for the August 3 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen International.

Allmendinger will pilot the No. 10 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing for the second time this season.

Allmendinger is a past winner at Watkins Glen, having won the 2014 Cup race there. He has 10 prior Cup starts at the upstate New York road course, with the win, three top-five and six top-10 finishes, plus one pole.

He also has competed in one Xfinity race at Watkins Glen, starting fourth and finishing second for GMS Racing last year.

It’s an honor to be able to compete for Kaulig Racing at one of my favorite tracks, Watkins Glen International,” Allmendinger said in a team release. “I’ve been fortunate enough to win there in the Cup Series and had a strong run finishing second last season in my only Xfinity start there.

Matt Kaulig, Chris Rice and all of the guys made Daytona so enjoyable and fun, I can’t wait to get to The Glen.”

Allmendinger raced for Kaulig Racing two weeks ago in the Circle K Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway on July 5, leading 33 laps and finishing third before the car was disqualified for failing post-race inspection, leaving Allmendinger with a last-place finish in the 38-car field.

Allmendinger has three additional Xfinity road course races scheduled with Kaulig Racing this season: Mid-Ohio (August 10), Road America (August 24) and Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval race (September 28).

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NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kyle Busch back to No. 1; Kurt Busch to No. 3

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When it comes to this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, all we can say is, “Oh brother” … as in siblings Kyle and Kurt Busch.

Younger brother Kyle once again regained the top spot in this week’s rankings, knocking Joey Logano from the No. 1 perch after Logano held it the last two weeks.

And after not being ranked in the top 10 last week, older bro Kurt rockets up the rankings to No. 3 by virtue of his come-from-behind win last Saturday at Kentucky Speedway.

Also making a big move is Erik Jones, who goes from unranked last week to No. 4 this week. By contrast, six drivers from last week’s rankings dropped out of this week’s tabulations.

Here’s how this week’s rankings shape up:

1. Kyle Busch (39 points): Tenacious performance at Kentucky puts him back atop the rankings. Last week: 2nd.

2. Joey Logano (36 points): Car wasn’t wide enough to block all those behind him on the final restart. In his last three races on a 1.5-mile speedway, he’s finished seventh (Kentucky), third (Chicagoland) and second (Charlotte). Last week: 1st.

3. Kurt Busch (32 points): What a difference a win makes. But Busch’s ranking isn’t a total surprise. He’s been knocking at the door all season. Had he not pitted at Daytona two weeks ago, he may be riding a two-race win streak now. Last week: Unranked.

4. Erik Jones (23 points): Returns to playoff territory and seems to have momentum for a finishing kick. Third-place finish was his fourth top 10 in the last five races on a 1.5-mile speedway. That includes a third at Kansas and Kentucky and a fourth at Texas. Last week: Unranked.

5. Denny Hamlin (22 points): His pit crew has been called for an uncontrolled tire violation five times this year, tying the series high. That’s unacceptable. Despite the penalty at Kentucky, Hamlin finished fifth. Last week: 7th.

6. Kyle Larson (20 points): Top 10s in three of last four races – including a second (Chicagoland) and fourth (Kentucky) – have solidified his standing for the playoffs. Last week: Unranked.

7. Ryan Newman (16 points): Is in full grind-it-out mode for solid finishes exactly when he needs them. Finished ninth at Kentucky after starting at the rear because his car failed inspection. While he fell out of a playoff spot, he’s only two points away after scoring his fourth top-10 finish in the last five races. Last week: 8th.

8. Cole Custer (9 points): Kentucky victory in the Xfinity Series was his series-high fifth win of the year. Last week: Unranked.

9. Clint Bowyer (7 points): Ends four-race tailspin but still needs to work on amassing stage points. Last week: Unranked.

10. Chris Buescher (5 points): If all the tracks on the circuit were 1.5-milers, he’d likely be ranked higher. All four of his top 10s this year have come at 1.5-mile tracks. He’s been sixth at Charlotte, ninth  at Atlanta and 10th at Kansas and Kentucky. Last week: Unranked.

Others receiving votes: Christopher Bell (4 points), Martin Truex Jr. (4 points), Tyler Ankrum (3 points).