(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

The Underdog House: Return of the Mack — McDowell, That Is

Top Dog

Another NASCAR Cup Series race is in the books, and another Front Row Motorsports driver is the top-finishing underdog. This time, Homestead-Miami Speedway was the place and Michael McDowell was the face.

In Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400, McDowell rebounded after a slow start to finish 15th, the final car on the lead lap. It wasn’t a banner day by any means, but after starting 30th and falling a lap down at one point, it certainly ended on a positive note.

After the race, McDowell spoke about how things went. “That was great. Another top-15 run; that’s two in a row for us. Everyone at Front Row Motorsports has worked really hard. Our No. 34 program has been a lot better this year, and we’re starting to see some of the fruit of that, so thanks to all of the guys back at the shop who have been working really hard to get everything that they can out of our race cars. Our Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang was fast on the long runs; we just needed a couple more laps at the end to grab a couple more positions, but I’m really excited about our performance today. [Crew chief] Drew [Blickensderfer] and the boys did a good job tonight, and I’m ready to keep the momentum rolling with Love’s Travel Stops next weekend at Talladega.”

Honorable Mention

McDowell’s teammate at FRM, John Hunter Nemechek, was the only other underdog to land in the top 20 at the end. Nemechek began the race in the 18th position and finished it one spot lower, one lap down in 19th.

Like McDowell, Nemechek also elaborated on how his evening went. “We had a solid night in our No. 38 Death Wish Coffee Ford Mustang,” he said. “We fired off pretty tight and battled with that for probably two-thirds of the race. The crew was lightning fast on pit road all night long and we managed to get the car a little bit freer towards the third stage. We would have finished a few spots higher, but I had a right front tire go down on the last lap. We still were able to get a top 20, which is another solid result for us.”

Other Dogs

The Xfinity Series ran a doubleheader at Homestead with a race on Saturday and another one on Sunday. The opener on Saturday saw longtime competitor JJ Yeley finish 11th, his best in an Xfinity car since an 11th-place run at Las Vegas in September of 2016. Also worth a mention were Jeremy Clements in 12th, Brandon Brown in 14th and Myatt Snider finishing 15th.

Round two on Sunday saw polesitter Snider finish the day in seventh place in the Rod Sieg entry. Snider announced last week that he has secured an entire season of competition in NXS, so this was a great way for him to follow up that news. Also earning solid results were Josh Williams, Joe Graf Jr., Colin Garrett and Jesse Little, who finished 12th through 15th, respectively.

The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series was in action last week in South Florida as well. Spencer Davis was the highest such finisher in 13th, followed by Derek Kraus in 15th. Part of that has to be attributed to the participation of Cup regulars Chase Elliott and race winner Kyle Busch. Additionally, unlike the Xfinity Series, the number of teams that could be considered underdogs continues to get smaller each year. So 13th isn’t a bad day considering what Davis and others are up against.

What to Expect

It’s Talladega, so expect anything. Anyone who takes the green flag on Sunday is a potential winner, so there will be underdog teams up and down pit road that will have sky-high hopes this week. Inevitably, some will end up obliterated in a massive crash (or two) but someone will sneak through and wind up with a shot at the end. I’m looking for Ty Dillon to be there. He’s been beyond impressive at Talladega and Daytona and seems to have found a nice combination of lucky and good.

The Xfinity Series faces the same monstrous Talladega on Saturday, and I think Brown might be the best underdog bet in terms of winning. Brown is good enough to finish between 10th and 15th consistently on almost any track, so somewhere that levels the playing field even more is only going to better his odds.

Look Who’s Talking

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Frank Velat has been an avid follower of NASCAR and other motorsports for over 20 years. He brings a blend of passionate fan and objective author to his work. Frank offers unique perspectives that everyone can relate to, remembering the sport's past all the while embracing its future. Follow along with @FrankVelat on Twitter.

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One comment

  1. Avatar
    Richard Anderson

    Bubba Wallace was 13th, Richard Petty Motorsports is an underdog team!! Why don’t you cover that team?