Thursday, Sep 21

Ford Performance NASCAR: Michael McDowell Looks for Daytona 500 Repeat

MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford MustangHOW DO YOU FEEL GOING INTO TOMORROW?  “It’s really been a great week altogether.  With the test down here, we still had some things that we wanted to try in practice, so we were able to utilize that time pretty well.  Duels went smooth, so we’ve been near the top of the sheet most of the week and were really fast in the Duel, so I feel really good about tomorrow.  It’s kind of slowly been that buildup getting ready for tomorrow.  Today, we opted out of practice, so nerves are kind of down and relaxed and tomorrow morning you wake up and you start to feel the pressure of what it’s gonna look like to try and defend the Daytona 500.”


BLAKE HARRIS, Crew Chief, No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang – HOW HAS SPEEDWEEKS GONE FOR YOU?  “This week has been pretty smooth, kind of reiterate what Michael said.  Every session that we’ve had has just kind of been nothing too dramatic other than the Duels.  That was maybe a little bit too much drama for my liking at the end of that, but everything has been pretty smooth, clean.  We had some things we wanted to execute with the rules change with NASCAR halfway through the week, went back through some things we wanted to go to work on and get the car comfortable for Michael.  I felt like we got to that spot yesterday and feel good about going into tomorrow.”


WHAT WAS THE TIMELINE ON FINDING OUT YOU WERE GOING TO BE THE CREW CHIEF?  “It all happened quick.  Drew was gone quick.  I found out that there was an opportunity there.  Obviously, we had some things to work out with the place I was at before I could really look into any of the opportunities, but I would say in a matter of three or four days from the time that Drew left until we kind of had a plan going forward, so all that stuff and the things I had to go through with the team that I was on, there were some big steps and it was a big step, honestly, for JGR to do what they did – to allow me to go for this opportunity.  It was a really short window and a lot of things that kind of had to play out, but so far – and from day one from the first time I talked to Michael, all that came together as quick as it did just because of how well the relationship seemed to go there.”


MICHAEL MCDOWELL CONTINUED – WILL IT BE HARD TO HANG ONTO THE DRAFT WITH ALL THE CARS OUT THERE TOMORROW?  WILL THERE STILL BE INSTABILITY WITH THE LAST CAR?  “These cars there are definitely some differences as far as how it drafts and how it sucks up and all those things, but, really, I think it’s pretty similar in that aspect of if you were the fifth car in line in a five-car draft, even last year it was hard to stay latched on if you didn’t have somebody behind you.  The really, really strong cars could, so I think that’s been about the same.  I think the difference is just the fact that the second group can’t catch back up quite as quick as they used to, but that started to evolve over the last two or three years as the manufacturers have gotten a little bit more organized.  If we jump out too wide, we’re gonna suck that group back up to us, so I think everybody is pretty in-tune with how this all works now, so, yes, there are some differences, but I haven’t noticed much in that regard, but also too the Duels are never really a good indication of what it’s gonna be like because everybody is on such a different agenda.  You have half the cars out there and half of those half are taking care of their equipment, so you don’t have enough energy, you don’t have enough cars to stay two-wide, 10 deep and have that four or five cars behind you to catch back up to the pack.  The Duels, to me, aren’t a good indication of what it’s gonna be like tomorrow because when you have 40 cars out there, the energy changes, the draft changes and business picks up.”


CAN YOU GIVE A SENSE OF WHAT THIS YEAR IS LIKE IN TERMS OF ATMOSPHERE COMPARED TO LAST YEAR?  “For sure it’s different.  It’s awesome. I feel like this turnout here and the camping and as you drive out of the tunnel here it’s like it used to be.  It’s like how it used to be, not just it’s bigger than it was four or five years ago, this is how it used to be 10 years ago when I first got into this sport, so it’s fun to see that.  It does make me a little bummed and a little jealous.  Last night, Zane Smith was in victory lane and had all of the Love’s guests and all of our sponsors there and it’s awesome.  I’m so happy for them.  But I’m like, ‘Man, we won the biggest race and we had to stand six-feet apart and not touch each other.’  I wish I could do it all over, but we get an opportunity to do that tomorrow and so we have everybody here and we win the race tomorrow that would definitely be special to be able to celebrate that with not just the fans, but also too we’ve gone a year without having our sponsor here, or more, so it’s really important to see our sport get back to where we were and it’s been fun.  The energy around here is incredible right now.  It was at the Coliseum, too.  This whole season has been fun.  It’s hard for the crew, I know that.  It’s been a grind during the offseason with this Next Gen car, but to see everybody excited about the future of the sport and see as many fans and campers and motorhomes and people hanging out, it’s been really awesome.  Hopefully, we get to enjoy that moment with everybody, but looking forward to it.  Like driver introductions.  It’s always huge here and crazy and the pit lane is full of people and the excitement, it’s good to have that back and looking forward to tomorrow and seeing everybody.”


IS YOUR FAMILY HERE THIS YEAR?  “They are, for sure.  Like I said, I’m so thankful to have won the Daytona 500, but, man, it would have been so nice to have your friends, you family, your sponsors, fans to take it all in because it’s a special moment.  Hopefully, it’s not a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but it is those types of moments that you wish you could capitalize on all that, but you can’t look at it too much.  You can’t change the past.  You just look towards the future and tomorrow we’ll have an opportunity to do it again.”


YOU ARE UP FRONT WITH YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST.  “Yeah, thank you about that.  I find it pretty interesting in sports because my faith is who I am.  I live it out every day and it’s messy and inconsistent, but in the sports world it’s always funny because just by being an outspoken Christian you get this extra pressure of like, ‘Oh, I can’t believe he bumped that guy.’  Are you kidding me?  If I played football, I would try to hit you as hard as I possibly could hit you because that’s what you’re paid to do and you’re an athlete and you’re going for it, so I always find it interesting how the perspective changes for some people.  If you’re a Christian, you’re living out your faith and things happen on track, but I also try not to separate it.  I’m not trying to separate my faith and sport.  I just feel like it’s part of who I am, so there’s extra pressure.  You feel it.  You get extra comments.  You get extra things here and there, but it’s all part of it and I don’t mind it.”


YOU PREDATED THE X GAMES ON MBX BIKES.  WAS THAT FORCED ON YOU?  “Really, it all kind of happened organically.  We had a BMX track close to our house growing up in Phoenix and it was just something fun to do on the weekends as a family, but I was ultra-competitive at a young age and that wasn’t anything my parents pushed or forced.  It’s actually quite funny because they’re not that competitive, so I was pretty self-motivated, self-driven.  My dad was more worried about, ‘OK, if we’re gonna do this, then you’ve got to make sure you’re doing good in school.’  It wasn’t like, ‘You’ve got to put in 17 hours of training’ and all this stuff.  He was like, ‘I’m fine.  I’ll take you, but you’ve got to do good in school.’  So I’ve always been pretty self-motivated and it’s all happened pretty naturally, just even from the time I was three or four years old racing something to go-karts and moving on through all the different series.  I’ve been able to do it, not all on my own, I had great support, but with no pressure from the outside.”


CAN YOU HELP TODD NEXT WEEK AT AUTO CLUB?  WHAT KIND OF CHALLENGE IS HE IN FOR?  “I can’t help him at all next week, just because I’m facing the same challenges.  We have no idea what this Next Gen car is gonna be like at California.  This car in general is a little bit harsher how it rides and with the ride height limitations and shock travel limitations and as rough as California was the last time we’d been there, I’m nervous about unloading and only having 15 minutes to figure it out, so I don’t think I can help him a whole lot, and you don’t really have a lot of time to ease into it.  You’ve got to go, but I think everybody is in the same boat, everybody has the same challenges in front of them, but Todd is very smart.  He really is and I think the biggest advantage, and I’ve mentioned this before, is even though he’s a rookie and even though he doesn’t have a tremendous amount of experience, he’s been in this sport his entire life with his family and his dad, and when you grow up watching every practice, every qualifying, every race, you’re in the garage, you’re around it your entire life, you know more than some others that maybe have more experience driving but haven’t been around like that.  I kind of relate it to John Hunter Nemechek, same way.  He understood the draft because he watched his dad do it for 20 years before he ever had to think about it, and it’s the same with Todd.  So they understand a lot more than your average rookie, if that makes sense, but Todd is very smart and he’s done a really good job – not just this weekend, but in testing too.  He’s gotten up to speed.  He’s done it methodically, so the biggest thing right now after Sunday, going to California, is not making any mistakes in those practices because we’re still really limited, limited on cars, limited on parts and so it’s just minimizing the risk and maximizing the opportunity in those practices and qualifying – long races, still a lot of unknowns for us and the the next four or five weeks will be a good learning curve for everybody to figure out what we’ve got to do and how we’ve got to do it better.  If I had more to give to him about how I’m gonna approach practice, I would, but we’re just gonna hit the track and figure out what we need to do.  It’s gonna be a steep curve for everybody.”


HOW LONG HAVE YOU KNOWN TODD?  “I do.  I actually stopped calling him Toddy.  His mom calls him Toddy, but our families have been friends for a long time – with the Ragans, the Gillilands and us, and so I’ve known Todd since before he was a teenager.  We came into some sort of press setting and I was like, ‘Toddy!’ and I was like, ‘Oh no, I just embarrassed him in front of everybody,.’  And I saw his mom out on the grid and she’s like, ‘Toddy told me you called him Toddy in front of everybody,’ and I was like, ‘I know.  I’m sorry. I won’t do that again.’  She’s like, ‘No, you should.’  And I’m like, ‘Oh, all right.’  They’re a great family.  They are and it’s fun because David and Todd are very different and it’s actually, for me, a lot of fun just to see how different they are.  I’ve known them for a long time and Todd has been part of the Front Row family because of David for a long time, so he’s been around all of us.  It’s a good fit.  It’s fun to have him part of the team, but, like you said, it’s hard.  Being a rookie in the Cup Series is super, super hard and he knows it.  He’s got a good support group.  He’ll be fine.”


HOW GETS TO KEEP THE CAR FROM LAST YEAR?  “I’ve been asked this a lot.  Bob and I have never talked about it because I know Bob is keeping it.  There was no chance I was getting that car.  I didn’t realize until you all started asking me that that was even an option.  I didn’t know I needed to negotiate that or talk about that.  Before the Next Gen car, obviously, we would never not race a car even if we did win because you needed it.  It saved you from building a new one for Talladega, but obviously special circumstances with us not needing the cars and parts and pieces and all that, so I’ve never asked because I know better.  It’s Bob’s.  He paid for it.  He’s gonna keep it and he’ll take good care of it.  I guess I need to think about that stuff a little bit more, but never crossed my mind that guys actually negotiated that into their contracts of like, ‘I get to keep the race-winning cars.’  That’s incredible.  The car is worth way more than probably my entire contract.  I don’t think I could do that.  I don’t think I have that leverage.”


DO YOU HAVE ANY OF YOUR OTHER RACE CARS?  “I have nothing.  Some of that is my own doing.  I don’t have a helmet.  I don’t have a suit.  I don’t have anything.  I don’t keep any of it.  I don’t know why.  My brother has a lot of it.  My dad has some of it.  Sponsors have some of it, but throughout the years I’ve always found it really, really weird to go into – and I won’t mention any names, but let’s just say David, we’ll leave it open-ended – but you go into a David’s shop and you see a shrine of their suits and their helmets and their cars and it’s just weird to me.  It’s just weird.  If you went into my house, you would see the Harley J.  That’s what you would see.  That’s the one I’m gonna keep.  That’s the one I have.  I’ll keep the next one too, if I get it, but I’ve just never been big on that.  I don’t know why.  I’m awkward about it, I guess.”


THE FORDS SEEM TO HAVE A SPEED ADVANTAGE RUNNING IN PACKS.  DO YOU SEE THAT CONTINUING TOMORROW?  “I hope so.  It’s hard to tell in practice.  I think that, for sure, the Fords have had good speed.  We saw that in the Duels.  We have good numbers.  We have good numbers of quality cars, quality teams, and quality drivers.  We’re very organized.  I think Ford has done a great job with the mentality of One Ford and the organization that’s gone behind that has been great, but tomorrow when you have 40 cars and you have everybody out there it changes the overall feel and dynamic of the race, so we’re still gonna work with our manufacturer.  We’re still gonna work with those guys, try to execute as best as possible, but it’s hard to sit here and tell you, ‘Yeah, I think we’ve got a clear advantage,’ because I don’t see it that way.  I just see us being a little bit more organized in the races and in practice so far.”


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