NASCAR: Michael McDowell set a record no one wants to beat

Geoff Magliocchetti
LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA – JUNE 27: Michael McDowell, driver of the #34 Ford, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Pocono Organics 325 in partnership with Rodale Institute at Pocono Raceway on June 27, 2020 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

An early crash in Sunday’s Pocono 350 earned McDowell and the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford a place in NASCAR Cup Series infamy.

History was made from each of the most extreme sides of Pocono Raceway’s Sunday scoring monitors.

Denny Hamlin’s win in the NASCAR Cup Series’ Pocono 350 not only put him in sole possession of 19th-place on the premier circuit’s all-time wins list, but also tied him with Jeff Gordon for the most wins at the 2.5-mile triangle. Conversely, the 40th and final car in the running order, that of Michael McDowell, set a Cup Series record for the most last-place finishes.

McDowell, driver of the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford, ironically came in the final position for the 34th time, breaking a tie with Joe Nemechek. He was running 25th on the 15th of 140 laps when his right rear tire went down, putting him into the wall. McDowell had previously scraped the wall while battling the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Chase Elliott for position. The Front Row team immediately determined the damage was too great to carry on, relegating McDowell to the fateful finish.

The timing of the historic accident couldn’t be more unfortunate for McDowell and the underfunded No. 34. Save for a surprise playoff appearance in 2016 (brought upon by a weather-induced win by Chris Buescher in the No. 34), FRM has not placed a car within the top 20 in owners’ points since joining the series on a full-time basis in 2009. McDowell and rookie teammate John Hunter Nemechek (Joe’s son and driver of the No. 38 car) have placed their Fords in respective 22nd and 23rd positions in the current postings.

Saturday’s first half of Pocono’s Cup Series doubleheader was historic in a brighter sense for McDowell. He drove the No. 34 to an eighth-place finish, earning his career-best result at a track other than Daytona or Talladega. Consistency has been the name of the game for McDowell and the No. 34 team in 2020. Prior to the crash, the car had posted top 20 finishes in four consecutive events, as well as seven of the past nine. McDowell is currently on pace to set a career-best finish in the Cup Series standings, having previously come home 26th in 2016 and 2017 (doing so with FRM in the latter).

Though his name is etched in NASCAR infamy (a history eloquently documented by a website known as LASTCAR), McDowell has had his share of auto racing accomplishments. He took home 2004’s championship honors in the open-wheel Star Mazda Championship (now known as the Indy Pro 2000 Championship), one year after scoring Rookie of the Year honors in the ARCA series. McDowell also earned a win at the NASCAR Xfinity Series level in 2016.

Fortunately for McDowell, he has a long way to go to set the all-time record for last-placements across NASCAR’s three national series. According to LASTCAR, that dubious mark is held by former Xfinity Series champion Jeff Green, who has been relegated to 121 such finishes.

McDowell and the Cup Series returns to action next Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Big Machine Vodka 400 Powered by Florida Georgia Line (4 p.m. ET, NBC).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags