It’s the end of another month and that means another sitdown with Michael McDowell of Front Row Motorsports. The No. 34 team has shown a lot of improvement over the month of July and I was excited to hear more about the finishes for the team. Before NASCAR Cup Series teams enter their last month of the regular season, let’s go Up Front with McDowell.
The Power of Consistency
Terra Jones: So let’s focus first on July. It was quite a month for you and your team! After Indianapolis, you posted a video celebrating the hard work paying off and the finishes happening. What have those gains made over the last month meant to you personally and professionally?
Michael McDowell: It’s one thing to get one or two, then kinda fall off the map again, and be kinda stuck in the mid-20s. But I just feel like now we’re consistently in the teens every race. So, it means a lot to me to see the whole program be elevated to the point where we’re not just racing the cars that we typically race every weekend – we’re racing the big teams and the big dollars. We’re doing it consistently.
I think the consistency part of it is so rewarding. It’s not like we’ve made it, we don’t feel like that, but when you’re doing it every week, you start to feel like you belong and we can do this. And not every week is gonna be like that – we know that. But at the same time, consistently running well, being competitive, and being in contention for top 10s, and getting top 15s is a huge achievement for our team and our program.
Jones: I’m sure it has boosted morale for Front Row as a whole as well!
McDowell: Yes! Drew Blickensderfer, my crew chief, is a huge asset to the program. Because he’s been on race winning teams and in contention for championships, that’s what’s cool about having him. He’s a good balance of being excited that we’re getting the finishes and feeling good about it, but also being like, “Hey. We belong here doing this and we need to keep going. We need to be able to move from 15th to 10th, 10th to 5th, and start challenging for wins.” So, he does a good job of keeping the, “Alright, we’re here, but let’s keep going! We’ve got more to go!” So it’s good to have that perspective.
Jones: I wanted to hear your thoughts on some of the elements from the All-Star Race that NASCAR tested out. First, the location change?
McDowell: I think short tracks are awesome for an All-Star Race! Obviously, it’s going to ratchet up the intensity level. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best race, but I think there’s a lot of elements to it. I think that not having practice, not having rubber on the track, and the PJ1 not being in, all made the race not as exciting as the All-Star would have been on a normal weekend. But I think having it at a short track is awesome. I think moving it around is awesome too. I think it would be great to see it moved around to different locations.
Jones: What about the underglow?
McDowell: I don’t think the underglow went off that great. I applaud them for trying to add a cool element, but it was barely recognizable and if anything, it looked like some of the cars were on fire! So I don’t think it was that cool. But I do like that NASCAR uses the All-Star Race as an opportunity to try different stuff.
Jones: The choose rule was really hyped for the fans, but it kind of felt like nothing happened with it.
McDowell: I like the choose rule and I think that it went smoothly as far as how it was executed, but I feel like it’s the same thing. At Bristol, if it was really one line dominant, which it wasn’t, but if it was, and everybody chose the top and you had that inside line open and somebody in 10th took it and restarted 2nd, then it would have been cool, right? But it didn’t really happen like that. Everyone pretty much lined up how they would’ve lined up anyway. But at other tracks, I think it’d be very different. I do think that it has a cool component to it.
Also, and maybe this is because of where we’re at in the field and we’re not usually restarting first or second, but I like the element of maybe some good guys getting in a bad lane, because it gives me the opportunity to possibly gain a couple of spots. I like when things are actually mixed up naturally because I think it allows for some opportunity. I think when everyone’s so smart, and they pick the best lane, you’re not going to see a lot of passing. But I think we executed it pretty well.
Jones: What is something you’d like to see implemented, or brought back, in a future All-Star Race?
McDowell: Umm, I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it. I think everybody races so smart now that it’s just different. I don’t know how to structure it to make it more entertaining in those first few stages. Oh! Maybe an elimination…where the bottom four guys in each stage are eliminated…then, I think you’d see more intensity…you might see the racing more exciting from 5th back.
Faith & Family
Jones: I know you typically have someone from Motor Racing Outreach (MRO) stop by to talk and pray pre-race. Given the current rules on who can and can’t be at the track, how have you maintained a relationship with them during this time?
McDowell: Yeah! So, even today, we had our bible study on zoom. They’re still doing chapel services, obviously all done virtually, so we’re still staying plugged in. But it’s not the same. It’s so nice to have them at the race track and there’s so much more to it than just prayer and their presence. There are always people in the community that are going through something, and it’s not something where they would necessarily pick up the phone and call MRO.
But when Nick or Billy or one of the guys are walking around the garage and just hanging out and they see them and have some downtime, they can have that conversation. So, their presence is definitely missed. But, it’s a unique time, there’s not a lot of people out at the track, and I think everyone understands the circumstances. But it’s definitely something you realize you probably took for granted, and now you realize the value of having them there.
Jones: Your job obviously keeps you traveling. What is one place you would like to visit and why?
McDowell: I just wanna be able to bring my motorhome and family to the race track. That’s what our summers are. Typically, our summer vacation is going on the road as a family, going to Pocono, New Hampshire, staying at some campgrounds in between, and just making it a family adventure. That’s the biggest thing that we’re missing, just traveling together as a family and being on the road, enjoying that time.
Jones: And finally, looking ahead to the revamped August schedule, what is one race you have circled and why?
McDowell: So, I don’t even know what the schedule is, but is Daytona Road Course on that August schedule?
Jones: It is on that one!
McDowell: So, obviously, with my road racing background, I love road racing. No practice is a huge advantage for me. I don’t know how many 24 hour races I’ve done there, probably five or six. Lots of seat time, in all different kinds of conditions – day, night, fog, rain, hail, hot! So, I feel like I have a great opportunity to have a really solid run there and maybe even sneak a win and get in the Playoffs. So we’re really looking forward to Daytona!
Thank you again to Michael McDowell and Front Row Motorsports for making this monthly feature happen! I look forward to chatting again before the Playoffs begin.