By Cole Cusumano
LONG POND, Penn. – There’s no denying Michael McDowell is having a spectacular 2022 campaign.
The Arizona native has secured career marks in laps led, top-10s and average finish through 21 races. Perhaps the most telling sign of McDowell’s success this season is completing 99.5% of laps run, which is second-best in the series by one.
However, through all the milestones, there’s one thing eluding the 2021 Daytona 500 Champion: a victory.
“It’s been a great year, and that’s fun, but man, so much is riding on making the playoffs,” McDowell told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “Your season is make or break in that regard. Even though we have better results, more top-10s than we’ve had in any season, it would feel a little bit incomplete if we’re not able to get into the playoffs.”
The speed has certainly been there for McDowell, but inability to capitalize could be the difference between him and another postseason run. With that said, the opportunities have been there for the driver of the No. 34, and law of averages should add up to a victory sooner rather than later.
One thing in McDowell’s favor going into the final five regular-season races is his road course racing prowess. The 37-year-old scored a season-best third-place finish at Sonoma Raceway this year, and he’s hoping to be two positions better at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway roval.
“Getting in position is such an important part of it,” McDowell said. “You gotta take a few more risks than you would normally, but just like any race, everything has to play out so well. I think we’ve done a good job on the execution, but just need a little bit more speed to really contend. We’re getting close.”
McDowell is coming off his eighth top-10 of the season, which is more than drivers like Denny Hamlin and William Byron, but it came at a steep price. The No. 34 team was issued a L2-level penalty for modifying a single course supplied part on the Next Gen car at Pocono Raceway. McDowell was docked 100 driver and owner points and dropped from 20th-to-26th in the standings.
In the grand scheme of things, the penalty doesn’t impact McDowell a whole lot. He was in a must-win situation as it was and this will allow the team the luxury of taking bigger risks to make the playoffs – he’ll just need to stay above 31st in the standings.
Where this does impact McDowell is the loss of crew chief Blake Harris for four weeks. Luckily for him, the team is appealing the penalty and the pair will be together at Indy, where they’ll look to execute a walk-off into the postseason.
“I look at Indy as a must win for me,” McDowell said. “It’s just getting down to the end of the regular season and you just feel that pressure and know it’s time to go.”