Michael McDowell helps ramp up performance at front row

AVONDALE, Ariz. –  Even to casual observers, the performance at Front Row Motorsports has picked up noticeably this season.

The addition of Michael McDowell to a team that also features veteran David Ragan has helped produce a critical mass that has raised expectations for the Bob Jenkins-owned team. Ragan qualified 15th for the season-opening Daytona 500 but was swept up in a Lap 106 crash and finished 30th. At Atlanta and Las Vegas, he posted matching 23rd-place finishes.

McDowell had an even stronger start. He survived the multicar accidents at Daytona to run ninth and followed that with a 24th-place result at Atlanta. Last weekend at Las Vegas, he qualified 15th and led 11 laps before damage to the radiator of his No. 34 Ford caused an engine failure that ended his day early. But the increase in speed on the part of the Front Row Fords is indisputable.

“I think it’s a combination of our partnership with Ford and Ford Performance putting more resources into our team and allowing us to have more access to engineering support,” said McDowell, a native of nearby Glendale, Ariz., and a former instructor at the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Chandler, Ariz. “All those things are really helpful.

“Then the partnership and alliance with Roush Fenway has been growing over the years. It took a few years to work out how we take in and process all this information. It is like drinking from a fire hose. You just don’t know what to do. I think now that we’re in a situation where we understand the process and how it works and what we need to do and how we process the information, it seems to be pretty smooth. All in all, it’s a slow progression.”

And there’s the human element. The addition of the upbeat, affable McDowell has provided a spark.

“I think that a little bit in the offseason is just bringing in some fire, like, ‘Hey, let’s do this. We aren’t OK where we’re at. How are we going to get better?’ Everybody pushing really hard in that direction, and then David and I pushing really hard and pushing each other and Bob Jenkins is really leading that.

“He doesn’t want to run 30th every weekend. He has put the resources behind it to help improve it. So far we’ve done that. Hopefully we can keep that momentum going.”

SHORT STROKES

Kevin Harvick, a record eight-time winner at ISM Raceway, topped the speed chart in both Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practices on Saturday. Harvick and Chase Elliott posted the exact same lap times in the morning session, 26.705 seconds for a speed of 134.806 mph. In final practice, Harvick was the lone leader with a lap at 134.544 mph, narrowly edging Jamie McMurray (134.504 mph) …

Denny Hamlin, whose car has been strong since he unloaded on Friday, had the fastest consecutive 10-lap average in Saturday’s first practice with a speed of 133.846 mph from Laps 3 through 12. Harvick posted the fastest consecutive 10-lap average in Happy Hour, running 133.612 from Laps 2 through 11.

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