No worries for Michael McDowell despite terrible opening Playoff race

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS - SEPTEMBER 09: Michael McDowell, driver of the #34 Ford, drives during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on September 09, 2023 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The opening race in the Round of 16 of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs hardly could have gone worse for Michael McDowell.

After starting ninth, McDowell struggled with the handling on his No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford and faded as the race progressed. He failed to score points in either of the first two stages.

The coup de grace came when McDowell was collected in a five-car wreck late in the race and exited in 32nd-place, earning just five points in the opener.

McDowell comes to the second Round of 16 race at Kansas Speedway 16th in the Playoff standings, 19 points behind Christopher Bell in 12th, the cutoff position for the next round. That doesn’t mean, however, that McDowell is ready to take desperate measures.

“Obviously, Darlington didn’t go like we hoped it would go,” McDowell said. “Our goal was to go in there and not make any mistakes, and unfortunately we did and ended up crashing out there at the end. It’s not a panic ‘911,’ must-win, have to go extreme strategy or extreme aggression, because there’s still room for other teams and other drivers to have some mistakes.

“But we definitely have to go out there and run top-10 to top-five the next two weeks, if we don’t win to put ourselves in position. It’s definitely an uphill battle, but I don’t feel like we’re out of the game. I don’t feel like we’re out of the fight.

“We’ve had speed all year. It’s just putting it all together. We’ll probably need a little bit of misfortune from some other competitors. We’ve seen that in the first round before, particularly at Darlington and Kansas, so there’s a lot of opportunities to not get it right.”