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McDowell's runner-up finish is bittersweet

August 17, 2013, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com

Runner-up finish gives pole-sitter best finish of season

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LEXINGTON, Ohio -- You can usually find Michael McDowell smiling, but after Saturday’s first-ever Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, he was especially buoyant.

After all, McDowell started on the pole and kept all four corners on his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after a swashbuckling race on the 2.258-mile road course. Even better, he was thankful to have steered clear of NASCAR’s handful of summons to the Nationwide Series hauler for rough driving.

“Oh wait,” McDowell said. “Maybe I am and I just haven’t gotten over there yet.”

It was easy to joke after a brilliant second-place finish. In just his fifth Nationwide start of the season, he came away with his first Coors Light Pole Award in two years and came within a few car-lengths of challenging AJ Allmendinger for his first victory in the series.

Coming that close made the result slightly bittersweet.

“It’s a great weekend and I don’t want to feel disappointed at all, but it is hard. You want to get that first win,” McDowell said. “We were close. We didn’t have the best car, but we had opportunities at the lead and AJ throughout the race. We just didn’t quite have enough.”

Part of the opportunity arose when Kenny Habul ran off course just before the white flag was to be unfurled, forcing the final caution period and setting up a wild overtime finish. With it, Allmendinger’s relatively comfortable lead over McDowell evaporated.

While the potential for a breakthrough victory for McDowell was there, a snug fuel window, the potential for disaster and lining up outside the preferred lane for the restart were potentially conspiring against him.

“It was a little bit of mixed emotions,” McDowell said. “I knew that it would give us another opportunity at maybe having a shot to win, I knew it also gave us the opportunity to be buried in the sandtrap and finish 20th.”

McDowell has competed in all but two Sprint Cup races this year for the reduced-budget Mike Curb-owned No. 98 team, recording a career-best ninth in the Daytona 500. Saturday, he showed what he could do in his second start of 2013 with the Gibbs team, holding his own for the operation that has nine Nationwide triumphs in 22 races this season.

While McDowell said he would love to expand his racing schedule, the ability to contend for the winner’s laurels still holds the most appeal.

 

"My desire is just to be competitive, whether that’s in the Nationwide Series, truck series or Cup series,” McDowell said. “The Cup program that I do, we don’t get to race often, but it keeps me around for opportunities like this. I would love to be able to able to move into a full-time position in the Nationwide Series with Joe Gibbs Racing, it’s just a tough place; they’ve got a lot of great drivers, as you know. When you can pull Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth from your roster to run Nationwide, it definitely makes it hard to fit into that. We’re working hard at it; it just takes sponsorship. Fortunately, we’ve had some good runs.”

 

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