ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — After a rough and challenging road over the course of his NASCAR career, Michael McDowell finally climbed to the top of the mountain on Saturday at Road America in Wisconsin, winning the Road America 180 Fired Up By Johnsonville for his first-career NASCAR national series victory.
A win that was 297 starts in the making for the Glendale, Arizona native, McDowell led 24 of 48 laps in the race extended due to an overtime finish to notch the breakthrough win in the style of racing that he calls his ‘bread and butter’.
“This is just huge,” a jubilant McDowell said in victory lane. “I’m so thankful and very blessed. This car was super fast today. I gotta thank all my (Cup) guys back in Michigan, too … Circle Sport Levine Family Racing; they let me be here. They know how badly I wanted this victory at Road America and I’m so thankful to do it.”
“(Crew chief) Justin Alexander and all of the guys called the right shots. I had track position there at the end when we needed it and we were on rails. It was awesome!”
Always a road course favorite, McDowell’s key moment came with 17 laps to go, on a restart after Erik Jones had stayed out to assume the lead. Road course rival Alex Tagliani, who started on the pole and led 17 laps early on, moved inside of Jones to take the lead at turn five but had McDowell hot on his heels.
Coming up the hill, Tagliani moved left to block McDowell’s advance on approach to turn six, but McDowell’s head of steam sent him into the back of Tagliani’s Team Penske Ford and left Tagliani spinning — while McDowell went onto victory.
At the conclusion of the event, McDowell found himself battling RCR teammate Brendan Gaughan, who pitted with nine laps to go and was on fresher tires during the final sprint runs.
Two cautions — one with five to go for debris in turn eight and a second on the penultimate lap after Alon Day stalled out on-course — set up Gaughan with a chance, but McDowell was too strong down the home stretch.
McDowell was also very thankful for how clean Gaughan raced him, lauding the longtime veteran after the fact.
“We definitely had speed, but Brendan had new tires and he was obviously fast,” McDowell explained. “He raced me hard and he did a great job. He had an opportunity to get to my bumper there and I drove it in as hard as I could, hoping he wouldn’t get there.”
“I’m so thankful to get to Victory Lane and I can’t wait to get to Michigan!”
McDowell will start from the rear of the field in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in Michigan, taking the reins of the No. 95 Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet that carries a technical alliance with RCR from Sam Hornish Jr., who qualified 35th.
As mightily as Gaughan tried, he could not contend with McDowell on the final restart and settled for second, happy not only for McDowell, but for the entire RCR organization.
“I just had to give it all we had,” said Gaughan, who was looking for a win to solidify his Chase Grid position. “Our South Point Chevy was great all day and Michael was awesome, too! To have it come down to the end with both of us there … that’s awesome.”
“This is three in a row for RCR at Road America. I love this race track. I’ve been saying it. It didn’t matter if it rained or it was dry … I didn’t care either way. I love this track and today was a great day.”
Brennan Poole finished third, his best effort since a runner-up finish at Talladega in May. Daniel Suarez and Ryan Reed completed the top five.
Tagliani rallied to finish seventh after the contact with McDowell earlier in the race. Series points leader Elliott Sadler was eighth.
The NASCAR XFINITY next heads to Darlington Raceway on Sept. 3 for the VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200. The event will be the penultimate race in the regular season before the Chase.