By Dustin Albino

Michael McDowell had a bad fast Ford Mustang Dark Horse at Talladega Superspeedway for Front Row Motorsports. He proved it during qualifying, winning his second consecutive pole at a drafting-style race track.

And McDowell was in prime position to win yet again on a superspeedway.

Over the final 27-lap sprint to the finish, McDowell controlled the top and bottom lanes. With help from his Ford ally Brad Keselowski, the No. 34 car got shoved ahead of Tyler Reddick, who was leading the top lane. Back and forth the chess match went, and it appeared as though McDowell was in prime position on the final lap when the outside groove began to fade.

Racing off Turn 4 on the final circuit, Keselowski got a push from Noah Gragson and darted to the outside lane. McDowell blocked and Keselowski shot to the bottom. McDowell rushed to cover the bottom and the No. 6 car barely made contact with the rear of McDowell, sending the No. 34 car spinning in front of the field. A massive pileup ensued, in which Josh Berry got airborne and Corey LaJoie slid across the finish line on his driver‘s side door.

Reddick avoids the chaos in the tri-oval to win at @TALLADEGA! #GEICO500 pic.twitter.com/yCKTy1KrfN

— NASCAR (@NASCAR) April 21, 2024

On a final lap that once looked bleak for Reddick, he snuck by Keselowski to score the win for 23XI Racing with Michael Jordan at the track. Ford now remains winless through the opening 10 Cup Series races in 2024.

“We did a good job getting out front and controlling the race and putting ourselves in position,” McDowell said from the infield care center. “Brad is so good at this place and he drug back and I drug back as quickly as I could and was able to block that first run that he made, but when I came down for the second one, he was just to my bumper. I mean barely, barely got me, so it‘s unfortunate.

“I hate it for him and I hate it for everybody that was behind that. It‘s the last lap at Talladega. We‘re all going for it, but we really needed to get a Ford Mustang Dark Horse in Victory Lane.”

Keselowski, who entered the race on a 107-race winless streak and is tied for second in track history with six victories, knew he had to take the run.

“The Fords were really working well together,” Keselowski said. “We cleared the Toyotas on the bottom lane and it was pretty clear it was gonna come down to the three of us. Noah gave me a great push and I went to make a move on Michael and he covered it, and I went back the other way and got another push from Noah and there was nowhere to go when Michael came back down. I hate that for him.

“That‘s just kind of the way this stuff goes.”

On the heels of finishing runner-up to Chase Elliott at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend, Keselowski was credited with his second straight second-place result. He now has four such finishes since becoming the co-owner of RFK Racing.

“Good finishes are important, but we want wins,” Keselowski, who jumped three positions in the championship standings, said. “I could really taste it today, but it just didn‘t happen.”

Meanwhile, McDowell, who led a race-high 36 laps, came to a rest short of the finish line, dropping to 31st position in the final rundown. Not only was a potential playoff spot lost, but so too was a near 30-point swing. Dating back to Circuit of The Americas, the No. 34 team now has five straight finishes outside the top 20.

“I‘m frustrated right now,” McDowell said. “I‘m motivated by our ability to run up there and manage the lanes and do all the things that we did. Our car drove really well and took a push well and had a lot of speed, so those are good things. But it‘s wadded up in a pile of rubble right now.

“It‘s been a tough stretch here, but we‘ve had speed and we‘ve run up front and if we keep doing that, we‘ll win a race.”

McDowell‘s next best shot at victory might not be until the series‘ next road course race at Sonoma Raceway in early June, where he has an average finish of fifth in the Next Gen car. Keselowski could easily crack the top 10 at Dover next weekend, finishing eighth at the “Monster Mile” one season ago.

Talladega was a prime opportunity — possibly even a must-win race — for Ford and the manufacturer came up a few hundred yards shy.

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