Just how they started the season with two entries in the Daytona 500, Circle Sport - Leavine Family Racing (CSLFR) finished the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) season with two entries racing in the season finale Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday.
Ty Dillon assumed the driver seat of the No. 95 Chevrolet for Sunday’s race while Michael McDowell was in the No. 59 Chevrolet SS.
While qualifying did not produce solid starting positions for the duo – McDowell qualified 26th and Dillon started 34th – the race proved opposite as both drivers put their vehicles among the Top-20 racers 50 laps into the race and stayed there until the winding laps of the race.
McDowell piloted the No. 59 entry and barely missed the second round of qualifying, putting his Chevrolet in the 26th position to start the race.
The Phoenix, Az. native has secured career-best finishes at 15 different race tracks in 2016 and Homestead was his chance to put No. 16 on that list.
McDowell got his car into the Top-20, and while the team did go a lap down, they were able to continue to race hard and secure the lap back following pit stops and adjustments on the No. 59 to help with handling.
McDowell was racing in 16th position when the red flag came out for the late race caution involving Carl Edwards. He avoided the wreck but had right side damage to his vehicle. The pit crew was able to work on the body damage during a routine pit stop following the incident and McDowell was in position to secure another career best track finish.
The last three laps entailed hard racing and three-wide battles on the track before McDowell took the checkered flag in 10th place.
“We had a great car,” said McDowell. “We made up a lot of spots in the beginning and we just sort of maintained that all day. We were running right there 16th to 20th most of the day and the strategy worked out; everything played out. Got back on the lead lap which obviously was a game changer. There at the end we got a couple of good restarts and we had a good car. We were able to close off a good season.”
“This is great momentum heading into next season,” McDowell continued. “The last 10 weeks have been great. We have run more in the top 20 than we ever have. As you do that, every weekend it gets easier and easier to do it. We’ve got a busy off season and still got to work hard and everybody is going to be trying to find extra speed come February.”
The 10th place finish is a career-best performance at Homestead-Miami Speedway for McDowell, giving him 16 different race tracks (of 23) where he has secured career-best finishes in 2016.
As is tradition with the race team, CSLFR will hang a banner in their Concord, N.C. race shop to celebrate the 10th place finish. In six years of operation, this is CSLFR’s best finish at a non-superspeedway track.
Dillon loved the handling of his race car and ran around 16th – 18th positions for much of the race. Unfortunately, late in the race he was involved in the wreck with Championship Contenders Carl Edwards and Joey Logano and had major nose damage and the car was leaking oil, making him unable to continue the race. Dillon was relegated to a 34th finish in the No. 95 Advil Chevrolet.
“We were so solid all day,” said Dillon after the race. “I'm really happy with our effort all weekend long and how much speed that we showed. We unfortunately just got caught up in that big wreck in the closing laps of the race. It sucks, because it looked like we were on our way to a top-10 finish. Matt (Borland, crew chief) called a great race and we had some really solid pit stops. The balance of the race car was pretty spot on all race and that's credit to Matt and the guys for being prepared. I'm proud of our No. 95 Advil Chevrolet and the partial season I was able to race with this team. I'm excited for what the future hold for Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing, Richard Childress Racing and ECR Engines. I've learned a lot this season and am appreciative of the opportunity."