Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway was a career day for Front Row Motorsports Michael McDowell, but looking at the 2022 season, it seems par for the course given his performance.
Starting fourth, the No. 34 Ford Mustang stayed at the front all race long, and in the end, finished third to eventual winner Daniel Suarez and fellow Ford driver, Chris Buescher. This normally wouldn’t be a surprise given that road courses are one of McDowell’s strong suits. But the 2022 season is almost halfway over and McDowell has already set a career-high in laps led in a season and top-10s in a season (six after Sonoma).
What sticks out about that statistic is that he’s had top-10s on varying types of tracks. He finished seventh in the season-opening Daytona 500 and lingered mid-pack for the next seven races. But in the season’s eighth race at Bristol Dirt, he finished a stout ninth and followed it up with an eighth-place run at Talladega, a track he’s run well at in the past.
Two weeks later he then finished seventh at Darlington for his third top-10 finish in four races and met that with an eighth-place finish at Charlotte in the Coca-Cola 600. At Gateway he set a personal best for most laps led in a season when he led 34 laps, setting his season total at 38. His 18th-place finish was indicative of how fast his car was. Then come Sonoma and McDowell had a chance to shine as a road racer and he came within shouting distance of his second career win.
It helps that he’s kept his car mostly out of trouble this season, as his lone DNF came at Fontana in the second race of the season due to an electrical issue. Otherwise, he hasn’t overdriven his equipment and has kept quiet behind the wheel. But despite not having the resources that most of the bigger teams have, McDowell has credited their momentum to learning the new Gen-7 car as well as his rapport with crew chief Blake Harris.
“I felt like this Next Gen car was going to level the playing field and give us more opportunities to show the level of team and program that we are, and I’m feeling like we’re getting an opportunity to do that now,” McDowell said. “I think we’re getting close to having the speed and if we can continue that, there’s going to be a weekend where we hit everything right and we have an opportunity to win a race.”
McDowell and the Front Row Motorsports crew are riding a hot streak of momentum heading into Nashville, where he finished 16th in 2021. He holds three Xfinity Series starts and two ARCA starts at the speedway, so he’s no stranger to the track. But given his performance across the various speedway types this season, there’s no reason to believe that the No. 34 crew can’t put out another strong performance in 2022.