Michael McDowell, Ford strong in Talladega qualifying

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Ford led qualifying for Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway (3 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), with Michael McDowell earning the second pole position of

Michael McDowell, Ford strong in Talladega qualifying

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Ford led qualifying for Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway (3 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), with Michael McDowell earning the second pole position of his career Saturday.

McDowell’s No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford made a dramatic final run in the final round of qualifying with a speed of 182.022 mph (52.609 seconds) around the 2.66-mile high-banks, just edging fellow Mustang driver Austin Cindric, whose top speed in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford was 181.739 mph (52.691 seconds). It was a dramatic birthday nod for the Ford Mustang, celebrating its 60th anniversary this week.

Superspeedway racing has been a strong suit for Phoenix-native McDowell, 39. He started on the outside of the front row for the season-opening Daytona 500 and won his only other pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March. Sunday will mark his fifth top-10 starting spot of 2024.

“I think we all felt that pressure knowing how strong we were at Daytona and Atlanta to come here to Talladega and repeat and have a really good starting spot,” said McDowell, the 2021 Daytona 500 winner and last year’s Indianapolis Grand Prix winner.

“The guys put a lot of energy and effort into all the little extra details it takes to get that speed. So excited for (Sunday) and feel good about what we’ve been able to do this year with our superspeedway program.

“This is a good week for us to get a win,” McDowell added with a smile, noting the Ford Mustang anniversary.

Ford, which has yet to secure a trophy in the season’s nine races, certainly stacked Talladega qualifying. McDowell’s teammate Todd Gilliland — who has led the most superspeedway laps this year — was third-fastest in the No. 38 Ford, followed by Richard Childress Racing teammates Kyle Busch in the No. 8 Chevy and Austin Dillon in the No. 3 Chevrolet. Busch is the defending race winner.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. was the top Toyota in qualifying and his No. 19 Camry will roll off sixth. Team Penske’s Joey Logano will start seventh in the No. 22 Ford Mustang, followed by Ford teammate Roush Fenway Keselowski’s Chris Buescher, last week’s race winner Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Christopher Bell in the No. 20 JGR Toyota.

Of note, NASCAR Cup Series championship leader Kyle Larson will be starting last in the 38-car field.

His No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet wasn’t allowed to qualify Saturday because team members were seen tampering with the roof rails while pushing the car to pit road. NASCAR deemed it an unapproved adjustment and immediately disallowed a qualifying attempt.

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Ryan Preece will start 11th in the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford — his best qualifying run this season. Alex Bowman, in the No. 48 Chevrolet, is starting 12th.

Also of note, Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron, a series-best three-race winner this season, will roll off 13th, alongside 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace, who earned his first career victory here in 2021.

Penske Racing’s Ryan Blaney – the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion who has three Talladega victories including last fall in the Playoffs — will start 21st. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, a two-time winner at the track, will start 23rd.


–Hendrick Motorsports’ Elliott is a two-time Talladega race winner and has always been strong on the big tracks — like ‘Dega and Daytona International Speedway. But Elliott conceded that he never knows what to expect at these venues in terms of the final run to the finish.

Five of the last eight Talladega races have included an overtime finish — neither of Elliott’s wins (2019 and 2022), however, came with extra laps.

“It’ a $64 question, I don’t know,” Elliott said of the situation and being able to plan ahead on the strategy of extra laps or not.

“For me personally, I look at it like it’s going to go to the finish and you try to position yourself where you want to be when you get back to the start-finish line. It’s just a really hard thing to guess when a wreck is going to happen, if it’s going to happen. I just don’t know. Ask (Ryan) Blaney. I feel like he’s won the last 15 races.”

–Blaney, who won at Talladega last fall, was asked about Elliott’s remarks on why he is so good at the big track — in regulation or in overtime. A victory this weekend would mark his fourth at Talladega.

“You never can predict it; I’ve always had that in my head,” Blaney said. “You can sit around and predict favorites for these races here for and Daytona, and it’s like trying to guess the lottery. You just never know what’s going to happen. My mindset is always just try to stay in the game and just be in position to try and capitalize at the end. We’ve been fortunate here the last handful of times to have a shot to at least run up front and have a shot to win the race.”

–Even before McDowell won pole position for Sunday’s race, Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s Buescher acknowledged this weekend’s Talladega 500-miler represented a really great opportunity for Ford to get in the winner’s column for the first time this season.

Blaney won the fall Talladega race in his Ford, and Buescher’s teammate and team co-owner Brad Keselowski is the winningest driver in Sunday’s field with six victories at the big track.

Even without having a win, Buescher is ranked 13th with five top-10s in the opening nine races. Keselowski is ranked 17th with three top-five showings.

“It’s circled high on the list because it’s ‘the next one,'” Buescher said of Talladega, noting that for his RFK team the opening eight races of this season have been far more successful than they were a year ago.

“We were fast in Daytona,” he said, adding, “We’re never sitting still; this sport doesn’t do that.”

Former Ford driver and current FOX television NASCAR analyst Kevin Harvick said this week that Ford needs to win and win soon. Keselowski agreed.

“It’s definitely a better opportunity for us,” Keselowski said of Ford winning at Talladega. “We have more speed as a manufacturer at these types of tracks and we need to capitalize on that. I think it’s a great opportunity not just for Ford to win but for our team to win at RFK and we need to come out of here with great finishes.”