Michael McDowell and Leavine Family Racing (LFR) overcame an adversity-filled Overton’s 400 and earned their best finish at Pocono Raceway.
McDowell had a strong showing in the final practice session on Saturday, as he was the 13th fastest on the leaderboard. He followed that showing by advancing to the second round of qualifying and earning the team a 17th place starting position for the 400-mile race.
The Overton’s 400 started off rocky with McDowell avoiding a wreck in front of him on the first lap but getting hit hard in the back causing him to spin through the grass.
Fortunately, McDowell suffered no major damage. He pitted under caution for new tires and to fix the skirts, as they were bent in from spinning. The field went green on lap seven with McDowell restarting 32nd.
McDowell said his No. 95 FDNY Foundation Chevrolet SS was running well despite the earlier wreck. He was able to race up to 9th as the green flag pit cycles began. The team thought they would be able to make it until the end of the stage on fuel and not have to make a green flag stop.
With two laps to go, McDowell communicated to the team that he was out of gas. He was forced to pit after pit road already closed for fuel, resulting in a penalty. Unfortunately, he received a speeding penalty entering pit road. He would start the second stage at the tail end of the field and one lap down.
McDowell was able to race his way to the Lucky Dog spot as a caution came out on lap 70, putting him back on the lead lap.
McDowell told the crew he was extremely tight with 15 laps to go, but was able to finish the second stage in 9th place, earning LFR stage points for the second time of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) season.
While pitting for a right rear adjustment and air pressure adjustments under caution, McDowell picked up another speeding penalty entering pit road, along with multiple other drivers. Crew Chief, Todd Parrott, told McDowell to come back down pit road to top with fuel, as he would have to go to the tail end of the field, and it would not hurt them.
McDowell began running his best laps of the race in the third stage and made his final green flag stop on lap 133. He ran out of time as he closed in on the cars ahead of him and finished 18th, earning LFR’s 9th Top-20 finish of the 2017 MENCS season.
“It was a little bit of a whirlwind of a day,” said McDowell. “We ran out of gas at the end of that first segment. We just didn’t save all the gas we should have and then we had a penalty, obviously. I’m not completely sure on the penalty. I’ll have to go back and look, because I was pretty conservative on my lights on my dash and didn’t feel like I was pushing it. It happened twice, so I might have just gotten the calculation wrong, but we salvaged a good day.”
Next up for McDowell and LFR is Watkins Glen International, a place McDowell hopes to capitalize on his successful road course racing background.