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Michael McDowell
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

Must win for McDowell at Bristol

There is one simple goal for Michael McDowell Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway and it’s taking the checkered flag.

McDowell finds himself at the bottom of the 16-driver Playoff grid heading into the final race of the opening Playoff round. The Daytona 500 winner locked himself into the post-season with his win in “The Great American Race” to kick-off the campaign back in February. But with a 38-point deficit below the elimination line, McDowell’s only shot to stay alive is by scoring his second win of 2021.

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“For me, it’s just about trying to win the race,” McDowell said. “If we’re in a position to do that, if we have the speed to do that, if the strategy works out to do that, we’re gonna do everything we can to put ourselves in that position. But at the same time, if we’re running 20th all day and we don’t have a shot at winning the race, we need to get some momentum back and we need to get some solid finishes. So it’s really just going as hard as we can and being aggressive like we’ve been, but also just seeing how the race plays out.”

Bristol has been a pretty good track for McDowell over the course of his career specifically during his tenure at Front Row Motorsports. He’s hoping for even more improvement Saturday night at the high-banked Tennessee short track to pull off an upset win.

“I think that Bristol has always been a strong track for Front Row and for our alliance with Roush Fenway,” he said. “Those have always been pretty strong tracks for us. For whatever reason, even with package changes and things like that, it’s seemed to fit our cars well.

“And even prior to those top 15s we had some really good runs at Bristol and got into an accident or something happens like that, so we’ve had speed there since I’ve been at Front Row and me prior to being at Front Row we’ve had speed there. So it’s a track in this first round of the playoffs is the one that we circled for our best — Bristol would be our best of Darlington, Richmond, Bristol, so we’re looking forward to this weekend. Obviously, we’ve dug ourselves a big hole, but Bristol has been a good track for us so we’ll see what we’ve got.”

McDowell is by no means waving the white flag despite his slim Playoff chances. But even if he does get eliminated Saturday night, he’s proud of the career year he and his team have already achieved.

“Overall, this season has been great and, like you said, it’s been a career year for me and a career year for Front Row,” McDowell said.

“We want to beat cars that we can beat there in the points and finish out the season like we’d hoped to, so I’m optimistic about that because of the speed that we’ve had in our race cars, even though my execution has been really poor these last two races. It’s disappointing and super frustrating. We still have a lot of opportunities to get it right. We have some great tracks coming up and we still have a shot at Bristol, too.  We just gotta go out there and see what happens.”