By Dustin Albino

WATKINS GLEN, NY — When the forecast called for rain at Watkins Glen International, Michael McDowell’s eyes lit up. He’s one of the few drivers that had previous rain racing experience at the New York famed road course.

However, that came in an IMSA race in the mid-2000s. And the Next Gen car had never pushed its limits in race conditions while turning left and right on a wet surface.

Until Sunday.

“I knew where I needed to place my car and where the grip would be, or at least I hoped,” McDowell told after Sunday’s Go Bowling at The Glen. “I knew I was willing to take a few more risks in the beginning because track position was going to be so important.”

From his career best third place starting position on speed, it took McDowell four laps on a wet racetrack to get by Chase Elliott for the lead. The No. 34 car went on to lead the next eight laps before pitting on lap 12 for slick tires. Interim crew chief Chris Yerges called McDowell to pit road a second time in the opening stage on lap 18 for fuel.

Throughout the second stage, McDowell remained the highest running driver of those on the same strategy. The No. 34 Ford finished third in the Stage 2.

Prior to the final stage beginning, McDowell got a pep talk from his spotter Clayton Hughes. The team told their driver they believed he could outduel the Hendrick Motorsports pairing of Elliott and Kyle Larson.

On a lap 48 restart, Elliott got by McDowell for the lead. Soon, the No. 34 car dropped to third behind Larson, which is where he ran for the majority of the final stint. But when Joey Hand backed his No. 15 machine into the Turn 1 wall, it set up for a restart with less than 10 laps to go.

That didn’t go well for McDowell, as he lost four positions, falling to seventh.

“I had a good run on [Larson], had a shot at it, went for it,” McDowell said. “[Tyler Reddick] was on my bumper and pushed me into the wad. I ended up pushing into the cars next to me and going way wide and losing some spots.

“Had a shot at it and didn‘t get it done.”

McDowell was able to fight his way to sixth, before another caution flew when Loris Hezemans got stuck in a gravel trap.

On what turned out to be the final restart, McDowell remained in sixth, earning his 10th top-10 finish of the season.

“It was a good day,” McDowell added. “We had a fast car, it‘s just there‘s so much on winning a race and getting into the playoffs. Just not enough.

“Today‘s a good day, just the outright pace we had and how close we were. Got to look at the positives. So, we‘ll go to Daytona and try to get it done there.”

A positive thing for McDowell is he’s a respectable superspeedway racer, having won last year’s Daytona 500. In 22 total starts at the track, he has three top-five finishes.

In four superspeedway races this year, including two pack races at Atlanta, the No. 34 team has a pair of top 10s.

Sitting 24th in the championship standings, McDowell is in a must-win scenario entering the regular season finale at Daytona in order to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

Having to win at Daytona is nothing new for McDowell.

“I always feel like Daytona is a must win, because like [Watkins Glen], it‘s a really good shot for us,” he added. “But different from here, is there‘s so many things out of your control at Daytona. The things that are in our control is showing up with good pace, good speed, good handling car. And just working with our Ford teammates, executing that last pit stop. That‘s what it‘s all about, executing that last pit stop and getting track position.

“We‘re going to do everything we can, man. We fight hard, man. It‘s a shame that we didn‘t get it done.”

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