By: Michael McDowell, Driver of the No. 95 K-LOVE Radio Ford Fusion
Whenever the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Watkins Glen International, it’s a big weekend for the team and me. With my formative years based in road-course racing, I know we have a solid shot of securing a great finish. This weekend was no different.
Thursday, August 6
On the flight, I used that time to prepare by reviewing past races at Watkins Glen, including races run in the rain since NASCAR gave Cup teams rain tires this year. I felt very confident about the possibility of running in the rain since I was one of probably only a handful of drivers who have raced at The Glen in the rain.
Once the team landed, a couple of the guys and I had to wait over an hour and half for rental cars. After finally getting the car, we drove into Ithaca for a great dinner.
Friday, August 7
On Friday, we had our first practice of the weekend. There was a lot of uncertainty with no testing and changes to the engines this year. We weren't sure how the car would perform. I also talked with the Ford Performance media team about the uncertainty and how we’ve grown as a race team over the year.
Between practices I grabbed some lunch with my crew chief, Wally Rogers. Together we sat and analyzed data and looked at the run sheets. I also got my gear ready for the MRO charity race I was competing in later that night.
After lunch it was go time! Final practice went well and we ended the day 25th fastest. It was then time to head off to Black Rock Speedway for the MRO charity race.
I drove the No. 44 Russ Morseman Racing Northeast Dirt Modified in the event. It was a great race. I had the lead for a while before finishing second. Huge thanks to Russ Morseman for letting me race! It was a lot fun! They invited me to race again on Saturday which would have been great but I realized that the more I race those things the greater the possibility that I’ll tear something up!
Saturday, August 8
Saturday started off with a debrief with Wally and Bob Leavine (team owner) about our qualifying strategy. My first run was a 70.238. I was happy with the lap but after seeing where we sat I wasn’t sure it was as great of a run as I thought. I started using a FanVision to keep an eye on the competition.
On our second qualifying attempt a slower car in the Esses ruined our run, which was pretty frustrating. We ended up qualifying 31st. Regardless, I was confident we would run well in the race!
After finishing at the track for the day, the team and I went to the Common Ground Community Center in Owego, New York to help a local Thrivent Action Team paint the exterior of the center. I always enjoy being able to give back to the local community instead of just sitting in a hotel room.
The team and I wrapped up the night with a BBQ at the hotel. We kicked back by sharing racing stories and playing some football and corn hole. I had my spotter, Steve Barkdoll, on my corn hole team. We went up against Bob Leavine and Jeremy Lange (VP of Leavine Family Racing). Sadly, Bob and Jeremy won.
Sunday, August 9
Race day started out with breakfast at Bob Evans. After that the team and I arrived at the track right as the garage opened at 8 a.m. I immediately met with Bob, Wally and Jeremy to discuss some 2016 plans.
From there, I had a couple fan opportunities. I had an appearance for Watkins Glen hospitality and a meet and greet with guests of Thrivent Financial.
With the new schedule this weekend and having the MRO chapel service, drivers’ meeting and driver intros all so close together, I really had to rush to the drivers meeting in order to avoid being penalized for being late. This meant eating my lunch at the meeting, but I made it in time!
After that it was race time! We started 31st and raced as high as seventh before finishing in the Top-20. Immediately after the race was over I took a seat on the track in some shade to get some cool air, as I was worn out after being in that hot car for so long.
I was looking forward to hitting Taco Bell on the way to plane – there’s nothing better than Taco Bell after a race! Sadly, the line was too long so we had to skip it, and I had lasagna on the plane instead. We touched down in Concord, NC a little before 9PM, The long weekend was done. Time to recoup and get ready for our next race, the IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22!