In multiple categories, Michael McDowell is having a career year in the NASCAR Cup Series.
With 17 races completed, the 35-year-old driver from Phoenix, Arizona, has an average finish of 20th and has earned two Top-10 finishes in his third year at Front Row Motorsports.
With nine races before the playoffs start, McDowell sits 24th in driver’s standings, 114 points behind the cutoff.
McDowell credits increased manufacturer support, as well as the employees at Front Row Motorsports in helping with the uptick in performance this season.
“We are definitely not surprised, but excited that we’ve made a jump and are able to run in the teens, which then puts us in position, at times, to capitalize and get Top-10 finishes,” McDowell said to The Racing Experts. “For us, it’s very rewarding because for years, the effort has been there and everyone’s been working super hard, but the results aren’t always there.
“Now, we are finally starting to see those results, and it’s a testament to how hard everybody has worked here over the years to grow and build this program.”
McDowell has finished inside the Top-10 in two of the last four races, including a seventh-place finish at Indianapolis on July 5th.
No practice or qualifying have been a strong suit for McDowell and the team.
“I wouldn’t have thought that would be the case, but we are learning that we have good people, good tools, simulation and all those things to unload where we need to be,” McDowell said. “We’re using the tools that we have, some common sense, some old school racing, and I feel like that’s helped us.
“What we’ve learned is that the big teams are really good at making their cars faster with practice, and that’s been taken away from them. You see guys like Kyle Busch who are super talented, but it seems like they need a few practices to get the car where he needs it to do the thing that he needs it to do. That’s hurt them, that’s hurt other groups out there, and that’s actually helped us.”
Although he has never won at NASCAR’s top level or qualified for the playoffs, McDowell is optimistic of the races ahead on the schedule, and making the postseason would be huge, McDowell says.
“For us to get into the playoffs, I do think where we’re at in points, we’re going to have to win, but it’s not impossible,” McDowell said. “We have good racetracks coming up, but just in general, if we continue to run in the Top-10, we’re going to put ourselves in position somewhere to win a race, whether that’s strategy, staying out, green-white-checkered.”
2020 is McDowell’s 13th season in the Cup Series and his third full-time season at Front Row.
Many of McDowell’s early starts in the series included starting and parking — pulling the racecar off the racetrack early in races to save wear-and-tear on equipment.
Yet, the starting and parking early in his career allowed McDowell to have seat time and stay in the sport.
“Every week when I showed up to start and park, I knew that I was doing that because one day I knew I was going to have a shot at winning a race, and I know it sounds crazy, but I never lost sight of that, and I still haven’t,” McDowell said. “That’s the driving force. That’s what is all about it.
“I’m very thankful to be running in the Top-10 right now, and it makes everything worthwhile.”
McDowell says his status at Front Row Motorsports is “year-to-year” but he wants to continue to be a part of the organization beyond 2020.
“This is where I want to be. I want to win races here, I want to win races with this group, and I’ll be here as long as (team owner) Bob (Jenkins) will have me. It’s a tough sport, it’s a tough business, and it’s driven by sponsorship and partnerships.
“There’s drivers that bring sponsors and drivers to the teams and I’m always fighting up against that. But, I mean that when I say that: I want to finish my career here. I want to build this program, I want to win races and I want to win championships here at Front Row.
“That’s what I want to do, and it’s finally starting to look like we’re moving in that direction that we can do that, if we could make the kind of jump a year or two from now like we did this year, that puts us in the conversation, and I really feel like the new car coming out will help that.”
I am a co-owner and reporter for TheRacingExperts.com.