The Finish: While the final results of the US Cellular 250 will show that Michael McDowell and the No. 18 Pizza Ranch Toyota started ninth and finished ninth, the night was anything but routine for the Joe Gibbs Racing team. McDowell fought back from being two laps down to drive from 18th to ninth over the race’s final 30 laps and grab his third top-10 finish of the season.
The Race Recap: Michael and the Pizza Ranch team started the day off by qualifying the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the ninth position for Saturday evening’s event at Iowa Speedway. When the green flag flew, McDowell began charging to the front. By lap five, McDowell already found himself in the top-five, taking a spot from JGR teammate Drew Herring. Following a round of pit stops, McDowell grabbed the lead on lap 51 and held the point, holding off Carl Edwards for 17 laps before relinquishing the spot. McDowell raced inside the top-10 for most of the event before having to come down pit road under green flag conditions on lap 166 with a bad vibration caused by a loose wheel. The resulting green-flag stop put McDowell and the No. 18 Pizza Ranch Toyota two laps down. The team was able to take the wave around to get one lap back and then received the “lucky dog” on a subsequent caution, putting him back on the lead lap with just 30 laps to go. McDowell restarted 18th and was able to race all the way to ninth when the checkers flew, giving him his third top-10 finish of the season. The No. 18 JGR team still leads the NASCAR Nationwide Series Owner’s standings by 25 points over the No. 32 of Turner Motorsports.
Michael’s Quotes: “I’m pretty happy with the way that we ran tonight. We didn’t get the finish that we deserved out there, but you’ll have nights like that. This Pizza Ranch Toyota was really good out there. I think had things worked out right, we would have been able to be up there in the top-three and we could have given those Roush Fords a run for their money. But I’m really excited about the way we came back from some pretty unfortunate circumstances and got a top-10 finish out of all of it. No one gave up, (crew chief) Jason (Ratcliff) and all of the guys kept a level head and we got back in contention. We just didn’t have the time at the end of the race to get up there farther. But the Pizza Ranch Toyota was fast. This was a good car, just disappointed we didn’t get a chance to get the finish we should have.
“We just had a loose wheel there past halfway. Things like that happen. It wasn’t done on purpose or anything. You will have things like that happen in these races. The impressive part is that no one got down, no one hung their heads and we just started focusing on getting back in this thing right after that happened. We knew if we could get the wave around and get a lucky dog, we would have a shot to get right back in it and that is exactly what happened. Unfortunately, that just all happened a little too late in the race. We had 30 laps to make the most out of it when we got back on the lead lap. I got on the radio and said ‘let’s do this’ and we just started picking up spot after spot. We were able to get up to ninth there by the checkers. It wasn’t a bad day for the Pizza Ranch Toyota.
“I’ve got to thank Pizza Ranch for all of their support this year. This was the last race of the year for them as a sponsor and they’ve been great to work with. I really wish we could have won a race for them, but their support has given me a shot to race in great equipment and it’s been an awesome opportunity. Hopefully, we’ve brought them a lot of added exposure. We’ve got another race in a couple of weeks, so hopefully we can get this Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 team another win before the year is out.”
What’s Next: The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota will return to the track next weekend with Kyle Busch behind the wheel at Watkins Glen International. McDowell will return to the No. 18 the week after in Montreal.