'Heartbroken': Michael McDowell wrecks at Talladega finish with win in sight

TALLADEGA, Ala. — “Just wanted to get to the line. Come on!”

Michael McDowell radioed that frustration — perhaps to his team, perhaps to himself, perhaps to no one in particular — as he sat in the grass of the Talladega Superspeedway tri-oval in a destroyed, banged-up, beaten-down No. 34 Ford that was leading the GEICO 500 entering that tri-oval on the final lap on Sunday afternoon. Everything nearly went so right for the Front Row Motorsports driver. All the way until it went wrong.

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Last-lap shoves from Ford housemates Brad Keselowski and Noah Gragson pushed McDowell out to a clear lead at the exit of Turn 4. With momentum, Keselowski darted high to make his move and was quickly blocked by McDowell. So Keselowski went low — and so did McDowell. But that final dart sent McDowell spinning sideways in front of the field as it stormed to the checkered flag, triggering the Big One — the often-inevitable multicar accident that rears its head in the midst of the Talladega draft.

McDowell, polesitter for Sunday’s race, was feet away from his third trip to Victory Lane and first of 2024. Instead, Tyler Reddick celebrated the win while McDowell finished 31st, the first car one lap down because his No. 34 Ford — its nose ripped off and hanging toward the vehicle’s passenger side — couldn’t make it across the finish line.

“Heartbroken, man,” McDowell said. “You know, I pull down a little bit sooner and we win the race, you know? But that’s racing.”

The anguish was written all over the face of the 2021 Daytona 500 champion.

“It’s super unfortunate. So disappointed,” McDowell said. “Yeah, you just want to get to the finish line there, and we had an opportunity to win the race. And I haven’t seen the replay and I’m just going off of what I felt and saw. I’ve moved up to block Brad’s run, and when I pulled back down, I just, just wasn’t clear, you know? Barely got my bumper and turned me, you know, but just unfortunate because we had a good chance of getting the Dark Horse Mustang in Victory Lane.”

Michael McDowell sits crashed in the Talladega tri-oval at the end of the NASCAR Cup Series race.
Michael McDowell sits crashed in the Talladega tri-oval at the end of the NASCAR Cup Series race.

McDowell, winner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2023, has shown superspeedway superiority in qualifying this season, nabbing Busch Light Pole Awards at both Atlanta Motor Speedway and Talladega in addition to a front-row start for this year’s Daytona 500 — all resulting in a combined 69 laps led between the three events.

But Sunday’s sting nullified much of that final stretch, even after McDowell led 33 of the final 47 laps at Talladega. Across the three drafting races, McDowell has just one top 10 to show for his strength.

WATCH: Keselowski’s view of final-lap crash

“I mean, it’s encouraging that we’ve had the fastest car at all three speedways so far this year,” crew chief Travis Peterson told “Obviously, fastest car up front trying to manage at the end and he couldn’t put it in a better spot. Just the way the runs play out. It was perfect when the 45 (Reddick) and 6 (Keselowski) were side-by-side, and unfortunately the 6 got clear. He started dragging (brake). We drug back to him.

“I think we had the right block. I think when he (McDowell) turned back right to not go below the line, he got a little loose at the same time the 6 hit us, and it’s just one of those speedway deals, you know? Nobody at fault. If we’re second, we’re making the same move. Just, heartbreaker man. We’ve been so close to a win about four or five times this year I feel like already, and something happens — crash, something. It just kills you. I feel like we’ve had really fast cars and now we’re gonna be about last in points. But if you keep showing up with fast cars, it will take care of itself.”

McDowell’s name is no longer a surprise to see atop the leaderboard, particularly at these mammoth speedways where the quality of a driver’s drafting abilities dictates success. The aftermath of Sunday’s race, however, left him plenty to dissect.

“I’m a student of the game, you know?” McDowell said. “I’m gonna go back and watch and study and learn and figure out what I could have done differently and better and work with my spotter (Michael Fisher) and try to figure it out. But I’m super disappointed. I hated that other people got caught up in my mess. But I’m proud of our effort and proud of our speed and I’m proud of our race team.”

Contributing: Zack Albert