Michael McDowell wins NASCAR Xfinity race at Road America
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) — Michael McDowell pointed his No. 2 Chevy against a concrete barrier at the finish line, burning his tires in a smoky celebration.
Finally, a late lead didn’t disappear for McDowell at Road America.
McDowell edged teammate Brendan Gaughan by 0.534 seconds in overtime on an overcast, sometimes misty Saturday afternoon at the sprawling road course for his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory.
Brennan Poole was third, while pole-sitter Alex Tagliani finished seventh in the 194-mile race.
After five career top-five starts at Road America, McDowell has the ending that he sorely wanted.
“Today was a great day to check it off” the list, said McDowell, a regular on NASCAR’s top Sprint Cup circuit.
McDowell finished second in 2012. He dominated most of the race the previous year before losing the lead on the second of three attempts at a green-white-checkered overtime finish.
McDowell started watching video of that race on Friday night before deciding to turn it off.
“I shut it off with five to go,” he said. “I’m glad I did.”
Gaughan nearly played spoiler.
The Richard Childress Racing teammates went bumper-to-bumper midway through the last lap.
“When I came out of Turn 5, Brendan was right there with me,” McDowell said. “I said, ‘Uh oh.’”
It was the start of four-turn stretch of the 14-turn track in which Gaughan said he thought he had the best shot to overtake McDowell.
McDowell held on through the critical eighth turn, and cut off Gaughan’s passing lanes from there. Gaughan couldn’t catch up, even with fresher tires.
“Michael and I have always raced with respect, so I’m not going to do anything stupid,” Gaughan said. “Got right to his rear bumper, but just couldn’t pull it through (Turns 9 and 10) to get to him.”
FRANTIC FINISH: Three cautions in a late eight-lap stretch led to several bumps and spin-outs in the field around the course. Cars went three-wide at times around tight turns.
The extra time had crew chiefs fretting about fuel strategy and tire wear.
“Those restarts are wild,” Poole said. “It was a lot of fun, some of the most fun I’ve had this year.”
McDowell held to finish with a top speed of 108.487 mph. An RCR driver won the Road America race for the third straight year.
WHO’S HOT: Gaughan picked up his third top-three finish in five career Xfinity starts at Road America, and 12th top-10 finish this season. On Saturday, Gaughan said he benefited on the last restart after passing Daniel Suarez and Justin Marks, who were racing hard but found bad lines out of the third turn.
WHO’S NOT: Marks, after falling no lower than fourth through 40 laps, finished in 32nd place after spinning around the turn following contact with another car. Suarez managed to finish in fourth.
TAGLIANI TIME: The Canadian road race expert set the early pace and led for 17 laps. Tagliani briefly took the lead after a restart on Lap 28 before skidding around the left-hand sixth turn after getting nudged by McDowell from behind while trying to move inside.
Tagliani drove into the grass and fell back into the middle of the field. He slowly wound his way back up the field, but his frantic charge came up short.
McDowell said he didn’t intentionally hit Tagliani.
“But at the time, I was clearly in there and wasn’t sure what he was doing when he came across the nose,” McDowell said.
WEATHER: Gray conditions hovered over the 4.05-mile road course. At one point, light rain fell on parts of the track, forcing caution for four laps.
UP NEXT: Darlington Raceway, Sept. 3. Denny Hamlin is the defending race winner.