Michael McDowell finally wins first NASCAR Cup Series pole in Atlanta in 467th career start

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Michael McDowell looks up at speeds during a practice session for the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

HAMPTON, Ga. – Michael McDowell insisted his first NASCAR Cup Series pole in his 467th career start was not a surprise.

Following a close runner-up finish in last week's Daytona 500 qualifying, McDowell said he knew his Front Row Motorsports Ford would be fast on Saturday.

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After starting beside Daytona 500 pole winner Joey Logano on the front row last week, McDowell edged Logano in qualifying for Sunday's race. McDowell was first with a fast lap of 178.844 miles per hour on Atlanta Motor Speedway's 1.54-mile track. Logano continued another strong day for Ford drivers by claiming the No. 2 spot at 174.424 mph.

“I don’t think it’s too much of a coincidence,” McDowell said of his duels with Logano in back-to-back weeks. “I say that because with both qualifying sessions being a superspeedway and superspeedway package we sort of knew coming from Daytona that we were going to have good speed. So not a huge surprise but really cool.”

McDowell, 39, won the 2021 Daytona 500. His only other Cup Series win came at Indianapolis in 2023.

After starting second last week and leading six laps at Daytona, McDowell finished 36th. He said he needs a strong finish in Atlanta to help set the stage for a strong season.

“It’s fun today, but it doesn’t count for too much for tomorrow,” McDowell said of winning the pole. “I’ve got to go out and make it count. For us, more than anything, we need to score some points, having some issues at Daytona put us behind.”

McDowell said he is relishing his opportunity for success with Front Row Motorsports.

“I think the first eight years of my career were rough so I’m enjoying it now, having fast race cars and a good team behind me,” McDowell said.

“At the same time it’s motivating, too, because I’m not getting any younger. I’m not saying I’m running out of time, but I have a lot of catching up to do.”

It was another strong day for Ford, which claimed seven of the top nine qualifiers. Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson qualified third and fifth, respectively, for Chevrolet's only qualifiers in the top nine.

“That’s an improvement on where we were last year,” Larson said.

“It pays absolutely nothing to qualify on the pole in any of these races, so I’m not too worried about qualifying. I’m glad to be one of the faster Chevys, but I don’t think anything about qualifying.”

Ford had the top eight qualifiers in Atlanta's spring race in 2023 won by Logano. Ford then claimed eight of the top 10 spots in the summer race won by William Byron.

Byron opened the 2024 season by edging teammate Alex Bowman to win last week's Daytona 500 in a memorable finish for Hendrick Motorsports.

Byron was 11th in qualifying on Saturday. Chase Elliott, who took his first win at his Atlanta home track in 2022, was 28th. Elliott finished 14th at the Daytona 500 after winning the first stage.


AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

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