McDowell captures Cup pole for Sunday’s race at Talladega

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA - APRIL 20: Michael McDowell, driver of the #34 Love's Travel Stops Ford, poses for photos after winning the pole award during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 20, 2024 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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 that is celebrating its 60th anniversary this week.

Superspeedway racing has been a strong suit for 39-year old Phoenix native McDowell. 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 tomorrow 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, by far, this season. 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.

Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Penske Racing’s Ryan Blaney – 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.