McDowell Gets First NASCAR Win at Road America

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Michael McDowell’s Twitter handle is @Mc_Driver.

After Saturday, he may want to consider changing it — to something like @Mc_Winner. 

McDowell led 24 of the final 25 laps of the NASCAR XFINITY Series Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville for his first victory in 94 series races.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular finished .534 seconds ahead of his Richard Childress Racing teammate Brendan Gaughan after two late restarts, including a green-while-checkered that pushed the race to 48 laps from its scheduled 45.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Brennan Poole was the top-finishing rookie, third, in his first start at Road America, after starting 12th.

The top-three drivers were in Chevrolets.

The victory was the perfect finish to some unfinished business McDowell had at the 14-turn, 4.048-mile racetrack. In 2011, he started from the pole position and led a race-high 30 laps, but ultimately finished 12th. In 2012, he started second and finished second.

“It means a tremendous amount to me,” said McDowell, who will compete in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway. “I’ve been so close here at Road America. To finally finish it off was huge.” 

It almost wasn’t, as Gaughan’s late charge nearly spoiled McDowell’s day. The 2014 race winner spent much of the day running in the second half of the top-ten after getting out of pit stop sequence with the leaders. On the penultimate lap, though, Gaughan bolted from fourth-place to second after making a three-wide pass of Daniel Suarez and Justin Marks in turn five. From there, McDowell – and victory — was within reach.

“When you’re racing your teammate you’ve got to have a little more respect maybe than normal,” Gaughan said. “I almost got close enough to him to make him make a mistake.”

McDowell didn’t waver and pushed the Childress team’s winning streak at Road America to three, joining Paul Menard (2015) and Gaughan (2014).

The win was not without incident. Team Penske’s Alex Tagliani, who started from the pole position for the second time in two NASCAR XFINITY Series races at Road America, maintained that a lap-29 tangle with McDowell was deliberate.

“We were the car to beat,” said Tagliani, who led 17 laps and had just regained the top spot going into turn five when he was bumped from behind by McDowell and spun going into turn six. “The opportunity presented itself and he took the fastest car on the track out.”

Tagliani, who finished second here in 2014, wound up seventh. 

McDowell, when asked about the incident during his post-race press conference, said it wasn’t intentional.

“He went wide in turn five and I got under (Justin Marks) and (Tagliani),” McDowell said. “I was alongside of him and he just decided to turn in. Once we made contact, I just came off the brake and pushed him out of the way. And the reason I did that is because if had I not, I’d have been stuck there too and I would have got run over.”

The race was slowed by six caution flags for 13 laps, including one for light rain.

Elliott Sadler leads the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship standings by 47 points over Daniel Suarez.

By Frank Rigas

NASCAR Wire Service