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McDowell, Gilliland Leave Chicago with Varying Emotions Despite Clinching Top-10s

McDowell (fifth) and Gilliland (seventh) left Chicago with varied emotions on Sunday, despite both drivers recording a top-10 result for Front Row Motorsports.


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With an endless debate of slicks versus wet-weather tires, the changing track and weather conditions, plus a race-ending countdown clock (implemented because of impending darkness), Sunday’s Grant Park 165 was one of the most strategically complex events the NASCAR Cup Series has experienced in quite some time.

There were several strategies at play, to the point where one would likely struggle to find two drivers (teammates or not) whose playbooks looked identical by the end of Sunday’s 58-lap event.

Front Row Motorsports (FRM) ran about six laps at the start of Sunday’s event where teammates Michael McDowell and Todd Gilliland were on the exact same strategy, before delving down their own paths, both of which resulted in top-10 finishes, with McDowell fifth and Gilliland seventh.

Driving the No. 34 Chicago White Sox Ford Mustang, McDowell had a much more difficult path to scoring a good finish than his teammate. After six laps on slicks, the Avondale, Arizona-native came to pit road for wet-weather tires, placing him outside the top-35.

The decision turned out to be counterintuitive, as the leaders (including Todd Gilliland) drove to the Lap 25 stoppage on slicks, maintaining faster speeds and much better track position.

After that long stoppage due to intense puddling, the race to the finish (which would be determined by the clock) saw Gilliland and McDowell in very different positions, as the No. 38 was fighting for a top-five spot, as the No. 34 worked to climb through the pack.

Strategy came into play once again, as crew chiefs Travis Peterson and Ryan Bergenty brought their drivers back to the pits in the closing laps of the race’s second stage to put the yellow-lettered slicks on.

By the time the clock ran out, the crossover point of the slicks being quicker than the wet weather tires had been reached, but the obstacle of poor track position – behind the twelve or so drivers that left the rain tires on – made it impossible to close the gap quick enough on race-winner Alex Bowman.

Regardless, it was a miraculous rebound for McDowell, who at one point in the first half of the event was put a lap down under green, something that rarely – if ever – happens on a road course, especially with the closeness of the NASCAR Cup Series field.

“Yeah, we needed a few more laps. I am just proud of the effort. Early on, when we went to wets and it didn’t ran, we were in trouble and lost a lap,” said McDowell. “We rebounded and got the wave around and after that rain delay, we restarted 32nd, so I am happy to get back up to the top-five.”

“I am proud of the effort. Everybody fights hard on our No. 34 Ford Mustang. We called a great race at the end to get us on the slicks before everybody so we could try to leapfrog some guys and that worked out. Those last 10 laps our car was coming in as everyone else was struggling and it was a lot of fun. But it isn’t what we needed today. We needed a win and we didn’t get it but we will just keep fighting the rest of the season.”

For Gilliland, who signed a multi-year extension with FRM earlier this season, the seventh-place finish is still a great showing for the Sherrills Ford, North Carolina-born driver, but considering he contended for the victory at multiple points throughout the afternoon, the finish harbored some disappointment.

“It is really disappointing actually,” said Gilliland. “I didn’t help us any with that last caution. I didn’t mean to get into [Berry], I was trying to go to the right and get under him under braking, and I pounded him. That is not what I wanted to do whatsoever, and it definitely didn’t help us at all. Overall, our car was really strong. I am really proud of that. We have been bringing a lot more speed to the racetrack so that is a lot of fun.”

In his third full-time campaign in the NASCAR Cup Series, Gilliland has been a model of consistency for Front Row Motorsports, finishing no worse than 17th in the last nine races, dating all the way back to Kansas in May.

It’s a strong stretch of races that has catapulted the driver to 19th in regular-season point standings in the NASCAR Cup Series, up seven spots from when the stretch began after a dismal run at Dover Motor Speedway.

That’s partially a product of an overall speed increase from Front Row Motorsports, which was upgraded to the Tier-1 Ford Performance program this season, in addition to forging a new alliance with championship-winning organization Team Penske.

Though, it's probably a good sign when you're disappointed with finishing seventh.

Photo Credit: Tyson Gifford, TobyChristie.com

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