TALLADEGA, Ala. — For as much success as Michael McDowell has had at Daytona, including a win in the 2021 Daytona 500, his results at Talladega never matched until a piece of advice from a former teammate.
Since a chat with David Ragan when they were teammates at Front Row Motorsports, McDowell has four top 10s in the last seven Talladega races.
His stretch of three top 10s in the last four Talladega races is matched only by Kevin Harvick and Erik Jones for best in the series at this 2.66-mile track during that time.
It’s a marked change for McDowell, who was eliminated by a crash in six of 10 Talladega races from the spring 2014 race to the spring 2019 race.
As he struggled to finish at Talladega, he ran well at Daytona, placing in the top 15 in 10 of 11 Daytona races in a stretch that ended with his win in the 500.
McDowell couldn’t figure out why his success at Daytona didn’t translate to Talladega.
“What’s the deal?” McDowell said of his differing results at those two tracks. “They’re superspeedways. They’re the same. I take the same approach. Make the same move. Same level of aggression. But time after time when you don’t finish these races, you got to look at yourself and say, ‘What am I doing wrong?’
“I don’t chalk it up to luck. I don’t chalk winning these races up to luck. I think it’s timing and preparation and putting in the work, otherwise Brad (Keselowski) wouldn’t be so successful here and a handful of other guys that have won a lot of races.”
The issue for McDowell was that he often was in a crash late in the event at Talladega.
Ragan, a teammate to McDowell in 2018-19 and again in 2021 at Front Row Motorsports, pointed out what McDowell was doing wrong.
“What was the game-changer for me is I would always favor the top (lane), always favor the top,” McDowell said. “The crashes would always wash up (the track) here.”
Ragan told McDowell to run the bottom lane in the final laps at Talladega.
“Ten (laps) to go, he’s like you just plant yourself on the bottom,” McDowell said of Ragan. “Let one or two of those crashes happen and you’ll be in position. Ten to go, you’ll see me hunting that (bottom) line. I’ll be darned if it didn’t work for about five years now. So I’m sticking to it.”
McDowell has shared the advice with his current teammate Todd Gilliland, who admits he’s a bit skeptical.
“I have had the conversation with him and it makes me laugh because I don’t know if there’s anything to it,” Gilliland said. “But he swears there is. He says, ‘Just look at my finishes. There’s real data there.’ … I’ll have to give it a try.”