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Michael McDowell lands Gateway pole for third of 2024 season

Michael McDowell lands Gateway pole for third of 2024 season

MADISON, Ill. — It was with an obvious sense of pride that Michael McDowell reveled in his pole-winning run on Saturday at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

McDowell claimed his third Busch Light Pole Award of the season — and of his career — but this one came at a quirky flat track, not a superspeedway, where the driver of the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford, a former Daytona 500 winner, is expected to excel.

RELATED: Sunday’s starting lineup | At-track photos: WWT Raceway

McDowell toured the 1.25-mile irregularly-shaped track in 32.468 seconds (138.598 mph) in the final round of time trials to claim the top starting position for Sunday‘s Enjoy Illinois 300 NASCAR Cup Series race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

In the opening round, McDowell topped all qualifiers at a track-record pace of 139.241 mph (32.318 seconds)

Fellow Ford driver Austin Cindric will start beside McDowell on the front row after a final-round lap at 138.134 mph (32.577 seconds). Cindric‘s Team Penske teammate, Ryan Blaney, qualified third at 137.982 mph.

Interestingly, McDowell and Cindric were the only two drivers in the final round to downshift to third gear in Turns 3 and 4 on their qualifying laps.

“In particular at Talladega and Atlanta (where McDowell won his first two poles this year), the driver‘s not a big part of whether you‘re going to qualify well,” McDowell said. “You still have to execute. You still have to get through the gears. I don‘t want to take anything away from that standpoint, but it really is a matter of how fast a race car your team brought you.

“Even today, we‘re on the pole because I have a really fast race car. I had more pressure to execute my part on a flat track like this, where you‘re upshifting twice, downshifting twice … heavy brake zones — all those things. So it‘s more rewarding from that point to go out there and execute and do it.”

Christopher Bell, last Sunday‘s Coca-Cola 600 winner, was fourth fastest at 137.669 mph. Tyler Reddick qualified fifth, followed by Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace, Ty Gibbs and Kyle Busch, last year‘s winner at WWTR.

Busch was the only Chevrolet driver to make the final round. For the first time this season, no Hendrick Motorsports driver qualified in the final 10.

Logano fastest in practice

Joey Logano topped the leaderboard in Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series practice at World Wide Technology Raceway at 138.024 mph in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford.

Right behind the 2022 Gateway winner was teammate Ryan Blaney in the No. 12 Ford at 138.02 mph.

MORE: Practice results

Rounding out the top five were Ty Gibbs in the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and 23XI Racing teammates Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace, respectively.

Hamlin was 15th fastest with a speed of 136.978 mph in the No. 11 JGR Toyota.

Due to the threat of wet weather in the area, the practice was compressed to a 30-minute session instead of its typical two 20-minute stints. It was halted for rain at 9:47 a.m. ET, with moisture on the backstretch, forcing NASCAR to throw a caution. Practice quickly resumed at 9:51 a.m. ET.