Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
McDowell Says “Unique Feeling” Going Full-Time, Up For Challenge
After putting together solid finishes all year, Michael McDowell is getting the opportunity that he’s waited for over the past couple years – the chance to run the full Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule with Leavine Family Racing.
“It’s kind of a unique feeling,” he said. “I’ve been doing this since 2008. I’ve run a lot of races, but not at a high level. Not at the level that I wanted to be at. So this is the first year where I feel like I’m in competitive equipment with the right people, the right parts, the right partners, to go out there and really show what we can do and do it full time.
“Last year, I think I did 30 races, and Ty Dillon did the other six. It was pretty close to full time, so it wasn’t a huge jump. But, to know that now you have a shot if you do win a race, to be in the Chase and to do all those things that small teams strive to do, is definitely a challenge we look forward to.”
There’s also the opportunity to go to some tracks that he hasn’t been to in awhile, including Kentucky Speedway since the repave. McDowell is also hoping going full-time will allow him to build on results weekly while getting into a rhythm.
The hopes are high for success for McDowell as he was able to post 10 top-20 finishes last season, including four of those in the final 10 races.
“We have high hopes going into 2017,” McDowell said. “We’ve done a really great job in the off-season, infrastructure-wise, and just really getting prepared for this year. We hope to pick up right where we left off, and to do that consistently now that we’re running full time. To run in those low 20’s and be in the ‘teens gives you an opportunity to steal a good result and hopefully, we’ll be able to do that every weekend.”
McDowell wants to keep his expectations realistic as not being able to reach those will “make yourself miserable because you always feel like you’re not accomplishing anything.”
“I know that might seem kind of crazy because we’re all chasing wins, but for a small team and what we have, that’s a big deal,” he added. “Now, we’ve sort of progressed from that stage where it’s not just those top-20’s we want; we want to be able to be legitimate contenders at several race tracks. Obviously road courses and speedways are a big part of that; but, to run consistently up front and to sort of be the best of the rest. There’s not that many independent single-car teams out there anymore. And we feel like we’re excelling at a fast rate.”
The confidence for McDowell comes from finishing the season strong, posting a 10th place finish in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. McDowell noted it was a confidence booster as they didn’t fall into the top-10 following a big wreck, but rather “legitimately raced up there all day,” and learned how much attention to detail matters.
“Todd Parrott (crew chief) brought a tremendous amount of experience to our organization,” he said. “And in the off-season, we’ve made big changes personnel-wise; and we’ve added to the existing foundation that’s already at LFR (Leavine Family Racing), and we feel like we’ve really put ourselves in a great position.”
The partnership with Parrott has certainly been critical, with McDowell noting that there was no hick-up in solidifying communication, with the pair working well together right from the start.
“He believes in me, and I believe in him,” he said. “I think that’s probably the biggest chemistry factor that matters is when you have a crew chief that believes that he has the driver that can do the job and vice-versa. That’s where the chemistry starts.”
Being with a small team, McDowell knows there’s still an opportunity to do well this year, and perhaps sneak out a win, after watching Chris Buescher sneak into the Chase with Front Row Motorsports.
“Seeing Chris and seeing what their team did last year made you wish you were a bit more aggressive, you know? How that played out was perfect,” he said. “It was a win one for the small guys. It was fun for them to be able to do that. But, it’s not just about getting into the Chase, it’s about being competitive all year long and when you get into the Chase, being able to do something with it.”
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