NASCAR: Phoenix (Michael McDowell Media Availability)

Ford PR

Ford Notes and Quotes

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)

Ticket Guardian 500 Media Availability (ISM Raceway; Phoenix, AZ)

Friday, March 9, 2018


Michael McDowell, driver of the No. 34 K-LOVE Radio Ford Fusion, is a Arizona native who considers IMS Raceway his hometown track. McDowell met with media members prior to Cup Series qualifying at Phoenix.


MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 K-LOVE Radio Ford Fusion — YOU ARE WITH A TWO CAR TEAM NOW, DOES THAT MAKE IT EASIER FOR YOU, TO BE ABLE TO SHARE INFORMATION? “Yeah, it is great, especially today because David (Ragan) is much faster than I am. It is nice to go figure out why and look at data and just be able to look at setups. Our cars are coming from the same shop, the same plates, so we know everything correlates. We struggled a little in that first practice so we will lean on David and for me to look at his data and what he does is definitely a big help.”


DID YOU EVER THINK WHEN YOU WERE AN INSTRUCTOR AT BONDURANT THAT YOU WOULD BE IN THE BIG SHOW ONE DAY? “When I was a kid, I had very high expectations and I really did think I would make it. Then once I got here and realized how difficult it is and how humbling the sport is, I look back and think about how crazy I was. I was out of my mind. It is something that I take very seriously that I am one of 40 on a race weekend. I know there are a lot of talented guys out there, probably more talented than I am to be in that spot. It is not something I take for granted. I did a lot of hot laps here in Cadillac CTS’s with four people in the cars and doing all kinds of fun stuff. Working at Bondurant, it is a race car drivers dream. It gives you an opportunity to hone your skills, make a little money with a flexible schedule. Bob was very influential in my career, very helpful. It is definitely something that I look back at those times working at Bondurant and they were great memories.”


MAKING IT TO THIS LEVEL, AND NOW HAVING SUCCESS. DOES IT MAKE IT THAT MUCH MORE REWARDING? “You know, it does, especially because eight years ago I thought I was done. To still be here is something that is amazing. The last two years for me to actually see performance gains. Last year was my first year running full time in nine seasons in the Cup Series. To be able to put together a solid season and to come back and start off this year pretty well, yeah, it is very rewarding, especially for all those times that I came here and start-and-parked and ran only 30 laps and was just trying to keep a job and provide for my family. To go through those four or five years of just really struggling, trying to figure out why I am here, what am I doing? To have the experience and understand the cars, know the racetracks and race competitively is something that is very rewarding.”


YOU SHOWED POTENTIAL WITH YOUR SPEED LAST WEEKEND. IS IT ENCOURAGING MOVING FORWARD? “For sure. Last weekend we had a piece of debris come through the radiator and unfortunately took us out of the race. Running in the top-10 in practice and qualifying top-15 and racing in the top-20 and being on the lead lap, those were all really good signs of our speed at the 1.5 mile tracks. I felt really good about that. Even though we didn’t get to finish and finished 37th because of the failure we had, we left there pretty excited about where we are at as a race team and where we could potentially be. A lot of great things are happening right now at Front Row. To get both cars into the second round doesn’t sound like a lot but last year between the two cars they were only able to do it five or six times. We are going on our third week in a row where we could potentially move on to the second round. Last week we were close to moving on to the third round. It is showing all the hard work everyone has put in back at the shop and to have a little speed is always nice. We just have to keep pushing, keep fighting.”


MICHAEL MCDOWELL CONTINUED … HOW DO YOU ACCOUNT FOR THE PERFORMANCE GAINS AT FRONT ROW THIS YEAR? “I don’t know how to account for it because I wasn’t there last year. I really lean on David (Ragan) and he has a great understanding of that. I think it is a competition of our partnership with Ford and Ford Performance putting more resources into our team and allowing us to have more access to engineering support. 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 dod. I think now that we are 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 smoth. All in all, it is a slow progression. I think that a little bit in the offseason is just bringing in some fire. Like, ‘Hey, let’s do this. We aren’t okay where we are 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 have done that. Hopefully we can keep that momentum going.”


GROWING UP ON THIS TRACK. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE UPCOMING CHANGES HERE? “I think it is great. The reason I do is that this is a great racetrack and has always produced great racing, even before the reconfiguration it was always a great track for the fans and drivers. But I also think about this place always being packed, always tons of fans and campers and there are some tracks that we go to where that isn’t the case anymore. When I heard that they were getting the face lift and a remodel and getting the funds to do it, I felt like it was well deserved. I think the team here has kept the stands full and the campgrounds full in a tough market and tough economies throughout the last 10 years I have been doing this. It has always been steady here. I think they deserve it. It is going to be great for the fans. The interaction and access and coolness of it being new and fresh, there are a lot of great things happening and that will help keep fans in the stands for another 10 years.”


WHEN YOU SEE A GUY RUN LIKE HARVICK HAS THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS, IS YOUR FIRST THOUGHT THAT THEY HAVE FOUND SOMETHING THAT NOBODY ELSE HAS? “I think it is pretty obvious to see Stewart-Haas has found something. They found Kevin Harvick. He is just good. It is just the way it is. He has been good his whole career. He is very good at those tracks where there is tire fall off and bumps. He has a rhythm and a knack to knowing what he needs. They are on their game right now. When guys get like that, they are tough to beat. Confidence and momentum inside the team and inside the driver — it is only going to get worse. Someone is going to have to knock the wind out of their sail the next couple weeks or they are going to be on a roll for awhile.”


HOW IS THE FACE LIFT HERE GOING TO AFFECT YOU AS A DRIVER WHEN THEY MOVE THINGS AROUND? “I think it is going to be a change for sure. How it all will play out I am not really positive of. When we first go to this reconfiguration and we saw the dogleg and all that asphalt down there, we thought, ‘Nobody will go down there.’ Then the first restart they were 17-wide. You just never know until you get here. As far as moving it, I think it is going to change the way that the restarts are, for sure. Turn three is very tricky but more than anything, you will be getting through the gears and you are going to have cars still in the turn as we come to the green. That is going to change the back half of the field a little bit too. But, drivers, teams, we just adapt. It is not a huge difference for us. Not a huge deal. It is fun to mix things up a little bit too.”


WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO HAVE A STRONG FINISH HERE ON SUNDAY? “I just want to run good. I have always sucked here. I don’t know why. Man, it is your hometown race and it is like, ‘Come on! Get it together.’ Early in my career I had some good runs here in the Xfinity cars and I had a few good runs qualifying and then the last five years I have just been really bad here. I am not sure the rhythm of what it takes. I have been studying Harvick films. Hopefully that will help me. Some tracks just go really well. I go to Pocono and it is like, ‘Wow, where did all that speed come from?’ Then I come here and it has been a struggle. It is not the tracks fault. It is not my teams fault. This is just a place I haven’t had the best runs at. But, I look at that as a challenge. I just don’t say I am not good at Phoenix. I just have to study more data, study more film and change things up. If you do what you have always done and don’t change anything, you will get the same result. I am trying to get a fresh look at it. With a teammate and a new team, that helps that.”


WHAT DO YOU MEAN, “STUDY FILM”? “I think everybody can access the races and qualifying and everything from YouTube. The teams and manufacturers are recording all that stuff too. So, as far as the in-car stuff goes, it really just depends if you get lucky enough to find something online. Sometimes guys will actually take video of it and put it on YouTube, like people watching it. You can study some things like that. If it is inside a manufacturer, you might get access to it. It has changed throughout the years. You used to not get to see anything but now NASCAR lets you have more access to the videos to watch.”


YOU GOT A LOT OF BENEFIT FROM THE ABILITY TO START AND PARK AND THERE IS NO ABILITY TO DO THAT NOW. NOW YOU CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE CHARTER SYSTEM BECAUSE IT FUNNELS MORE MONEY THAN IT WOULD HAVE INTO YOUR CARS. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE SYSTEM THE WAY IT IS NOW AND THE FACT THAT IT MAY HAVE BEEN MORE DIFFICULT FOR YOU TO GET HERE BUT NOW THAT YOU ARE HERE IT MAY GIVE YOUR TEAM MORE POTENTIAL? “I have never really thought about it like that. The opportunity for me to start and park was great for my career as far as being able to stay in the sport and still get experience and spend time. I agree with you. Had that not been in play, I am not sure I would be here. I also think about that there are probably four or five cars in the the race this weekend that have a charter that are running full distance but operating on similar budgets that we did as a start and park. We had to go all out to make a race. You remember when there were 45 or 50 cars trying to make a race. You didn’t cut any corners. You had the best engine you had and the full allotment of tires for practice, best radiators, everything just to make the race. We spent a lot of our money just to make the race back then. Now because you don’t have to do that, I feel like five years ago I would just be in one of those cars doing that. I think there are guys getting that same kind of experience. Ross Chastain last week. Guys like that. They are getting to run the full distance where I wasn’t able to do that but I was able to qualify a car really fast because it had all the cool parts on it but only had to go two laps.”


About Greg Engle 7420 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.