Prior to the South Point 400, Michael McDowell took a few minutes out of his busy, pre-race schedule to chat for the next installment of Up Front with McDowell. Before we tackled the on-track portion of our discussion, I had to get to the bottom of a pressing issue.
Terra Jones: I’m going to start off with an “off-the-wall” question. I was channel hopping on the scanner last week at Bristol. When I landed on your channel, I swear I heard Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) call you Catfish. Did I hear that right?
Michael McDowell: (laughs) No, I don’t think so…Wait, wait, wait! He could’ve…because I’m a bottom feeder! Yeah. He probably did.
With that out of the way, we shifted gears to more serious business. Topics for this month included, but were not limited to, 2021 changes, pre-race routines, and adjusting goals throughout the season.
Road Course of Discussion
Jones: Now, it was announced that the 2021 All-Star Race would be moving to Texas Motor Speedway. With that announcement came rumors of COTA being added to the Cup schedule. Given your love for road courses, how pumped are you for that potential addition?
McDowell: I think it’s great news! Obviously, the schedule isn’t official. But there’s been a lot of rumor and speculation that there will be a few more road courses next year, which is great. Obviously, that’s a strength of mine and our team, so hopefully, we’ll have more opportunities at it. This year, with Sonoma and Watkins Glen being canceled, that kind of took away a few opportunities. It sounds like next year we’ll have a few more and that’s exciting!
Jones: For fans that love the sport but maybe don’t love the road courses as much, what would you tell them to try and make them bigger fans of that style of racing?
McDowell: Our road course races put on a great show, probably better than our short tracks. And people love to tune in, I mean they’re some of our highest viewed tracks, minus Daytona and Talladega, which are more prestigious plate races. Road courses put on great races in the Cup Series, as well as Xfinity and Trucks, and I think that’s why the fans have asked for more, and NASCAR is bringing more to the table. TV is looking for more, and the fans are as well.
Truck (and Xfinity) Talk
Jones: Your former teammate, David Ragan, ran a handful of Truck races this season. Looking at your career, you have two Truck starts and less than 100 Xfinity starts. You said in a previous interview you were maybe “rushed to Cup.” Given the opportunity, would you consider running races in either of those series?
McDowell: Yeah! Absolutely! I would love to do it. I would love to do it now and have some of those opportunities. It’s just hard to come by without big sponsors and there’s not a lot of extra seats like there used to be. I mean, when I came into the sport, the Cup guys all were racing Trucks and Xfinity all the time…An Xfinity race probably had 15 Cup guys – Bobby Labonte and Bowyer and Harvick, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin, and all these guys…they’d all run a few races and it would be great to get back to that. There’s just not enough extra cars and enough support to do it.
But my two Truck starts, I did Martinsville for Darrell Waltrip and that didn’t go so smooth. It was my first NASCAR race and I took the radiator out on a restart. Then we put together a real late deal with ThorSport and I ran an extra truck for them at New Hampshire. That was fun! But (laughing) the wheels fell off. So yeah, I haven’t done a lot of Truck races, but I love watching the Truck series and I’d love to do some of those races for sure.
Moving the Mark
Jones: After your top 10 at Bristol, you mentioned this was the best season you’ve ever had. Originally you shared getting both cars in the top 25 in owner’s points was a season-long goal. Currently, you’re 23rd and John Hunter Nemechek is 27th. Have goals changed any for you and your team given the success of this season?
McDowell: The goals are always changing, well, it’s hard to say ‘the goals are changing.’ That probably isn’t stating it right. Now that we’re 23rd, we’re very close to 21st and 22nd, maybe even 20th. So, we’re definitely pushing to advance, to run better, and finish better in points. But I think when you look at the beginning of the year, you set a goal and so even though the benchmark is maybe moved a little bit, we still want to achieve that goal. And, if we achieve more, that’s great!
There’s still a lot of racing left and it’s so tight if you look at the points. I think it’s like maybe 15 points spread between all those spots. So, one bad weekend, one good weekend can really swing the pendulum. We hope that we can keep this momentum going and have solid races for the rest of the year, and maybe we can finish 21st or 22nd in the owner’s points. But, if we finish 24th or 25th, we still achieved our goal.
“The Sport is in a Good Spot”
Jones: You talked a bit earlier about potential new tracks being added, there are rumors of Miami moving spots in the schedule, we had Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan announce a new team – with all these changes coming, what are your thoughts on the future of the sport?
McDowell: I think there’s a lot of great movement and some cool momentum. I think having a driver like Denny feeling confident in the sport and starting a team, and bringing in a brand and personality and star power like Michael Jordan is great. It adds another quality car, which is great for the sport, so those are all good things.
Schedule changing, I feel like, is a good thing for sure. For me with the road courses, and more short tracks, that’s definitely helpful. The sport is in a good spot. Obviously, with this pandemic, it’s been an adjustment for everybody. But we seem to have persevered pretty well and maybe we got some new ideas and ways to make the sport better.
Jones: And finally, since I’m able to talk to you just hours before you hop into the car, can you share what your “pre-race” routine looks like? What do the pre-race hours and moments look like for you?
McDowell: Yeah, I don’t have a designated routine that I have to do. And this weekend is different because we’re on the West Coast, I don’t have my motorhome here, so I’m sitting in the rental car. I went and filled up my ice chest this morning with some lunch and snacks. I mean, the same preparation goes into it – you want to be hydrated and make sure you’re ready for the job at hand. It kind of changes every weekend for me. But no. I’m not superstitious. I don’t have certain things I have to do and if I don’t do it I feel like I’ve jinxed myself or something like that.
Thank you again to Michael McDowell for taking the time to talk. Also, thank you to Front Row Motorsports for allowing this series to continue each month! There will be two more installments of Up Front with McDowell this season, so check back next month for more on and off-track discussion.