Ford Performance NASCAR: Daytona 500 Media Day (Michael McDowell)

MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 Ford Mustang — DO YOU FEEL LIKE THIS RACE MIGHT BE YOUR SHOT TO GET A WIN BEFORE THE SPEEDWAY RULES CHANGE? “Last year, as strong as we ran in both the 500 and the July race it gave us a lot of confidence. We led a lot of laps, ran up front. Daytona is our opportunity to try to win a race and there will be more opportunities this year with this rule package, for sure. This plays into our hands well. I hadn’t really thought about the rules changing for the superspeedways as well. This style of racing at Daytona and Talladega has been around for awhile, but this is a great opportunity for us and we need to make sure we capitalize on it.”

LOTS OF CHANGE FOR FRONT ROW THIS OFF-SEASON. WHAT IS THE SENSE OF WHERE YOU GUYS ARE AT AND HOW YOU HAVE ADJUSTED? “I’d love to tell you that it was easy sailing but not only did we add an additional car with Matt (Tifft) but we also moved shops. That was a big, big process. I am really proud of everyone at Front Row Motorsports. Donnie Wingo, Jerry Freeze, they did a lot. As you can imagine with any move, if you guys have moved, you take an entire race team, all the parts and pieces. The haulers, the cars, and update them to Mustangs and add a third car, and hire 25 people, it was crazy. So, I am really proud of everybody. The preparation was still really good coming here and that is what you worry about when you are expanding. Making sure that you don’t lose some of the quality that you had the prior year when you had more people and more time. But everybody did a great job.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK MATT TIFFT IS IN FOR THIS SEASON? “I think he is in for a lot. I think it doesn’t really matter what you have done in Xfinity, whether you are a champion or not. You see it with Chase Elliott and William Byron and a lot of great drivers. There are not a lot of guys that transition from Xfinity to Cup seamlessly. You look at how good (Kyle) Larson was when he first got into the sport. Everyone thought the guy was going to win a lot of races. He has, but it took him a lot of years to do it. I think that is a testament to how difficult the Cup Series is. For David (Ragan) and I, our job is to help Matt with the transition. We didn’t have that. We had great teammates but teammates weren’t supposed to do that when we were coming into the sport. They just wanted to beat you. To be able to help him in the transition from Xfinity to Cup and not let him fall flat on his face is something that David and I are going to work hard at. There will be some learning curve with that but now is the time for Matt and all these rookies with this new rules package and new format, just the style of racing, if you were ever going to be a rookie in the Cup Series, this is the year. I tell Matt that he timed it really well. Hopefully he will have a great season.”

WHEN DID THAT CHANGE WITH TEAMMATES HELPING? “When I came in to Michael Waltrip Racing, I would have had a great mentor with Dale Jarrett. Dale was a great friend and really helped me those first handful of races when he was still around. As soon as he was out of the car and transitioned into his new role he wasn’t around that much. David Reutimann and I had become good friends but it took him a year before he would even really have a real conversation. I talked to him about it 10 years later and he was like, ‘Man, you came in all full of energy and bouncing off the walls and that just wasn’t me.’ But it is just the way it was. Nobody helped him. Michael Waltrip was a good teammate but he was running a race team, he was on TV, he was on SiriusXM and he was at the tail end of his career as well. He would give you nuggets but he didn’t have a whole lot of time. Just to be able to help somebody transition, I love that. Coaching and mentoring, I have done that my entire life with kids in go carts and sports cars and everywhere else. I enjoy that aspect. That is how Matt and I met when he was driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, they hired me to work with him on the road courses. I like that mentoring part of it.”
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QUESTION INAUDIBLE: “As a driver, yes, you are always hoping for that. The reality is that normally you have big plans and you only execute about half of them. So far, Bob Jenkins and everybody at Front Row Motorsports has really continued to make investments and expand our program and this is evidence of it. The quality of people that we have this year, and we are able to hire by bringing on that third car – if you just look at the scope of our sport, there was a lot of teams downsizing and we were hiring 20 or 30 people this offseason. It was a great time for our team to be able to do that with the quality of people that were available. The fact that we have top engineers, top crew chiefs, these are top guys. My crew chief from last year, Derrick Finley moving into a technical role and Donnie Wingo overseeing the competition. We have really great people from top to bottom. We couldn’t do that two years ago. If we had expanded then, we wouldn’t have been able to get the kind of people we have now.”

REALISTICALLY, WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THIS EXPANDED FRONT ROW MOTORSPORTS OPERATION? “Well, definitely not a downward movement at all. It just wouldn’t be acceptable for the investment that Bob and our partners have put into the race team. And Ford in particular. Ford has been a big part of us expanding our program over the last two years with technical support. We are truly getting manufacturer support and for a smaller team, that is really big. I can’t answer that question for the team of what the expectation is, but my expectation is very simple. It is to win a race. I have been doing this a long time and to not check that box would be very disappointing. I have one goal. My goal is to win a race. Everything else falls in between that. Making the playoffs and all the things that come with when you win a race. It isn’t about points or finishes or consistency, it is about winning a race. That is really what I need to do personally and what the team needs to do to really put us into the next position.”

DOES THE NEW PACKAGE HELP YOU DO THAT? “Yeah, that is what allows us to look at Atlanta and think we could possibly win there. In years past, you run top-20 and are excited about that. The top teams are going to be the top teams and the top drivers will always be the top drivers. But if you get a restart with five to go and can run wide open, it will be like Daytona. It will be a shootout. I like that style of racing. It has always suited me really well and if we can put ourselves in that position enough times, hopefully we can capitalize on that.”

HOW MANY OF YOU HAVE A REALISTIC SHOT TO WIN HERE THIS WEEKEND? “I would say 25, or maybe a little more. I have qualified 38th here and ran in the top-five. It doesn’t really matter where you start or what you have for a piece if you put yourself in position. What I have learned the last two years with really fast Fords here, is you can make your own way if you have speed. Last year at the July race I was able to lead a lot of laps and get used to controlling the lines and what to do and not to do. I think you have to do that often in order to capitalize on the end of the race. In years past, I wouldn’t say I lucked into it, but I got in the right lane and picked the right lane to stay in and came out with a top-five or top10. To win a race you have to have a car fast enough that can lead the lines and you can make aggressive moves. So, yeah, you have a shot. But a realistic shot, there is still probably only 20 cars that have a shot.”


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