Michael McDowell and Leavine Family Racing (LFR) earned a hard-fought 22nd place finish at McDowell’s home track of Phoenix Raceway.
The team struggled early in the weekend, as they had difficulty finding grip and qualified 28th. Although they were not satisfied with Friday’s results, Saturday brought some gains for the team, as they prepared the No. 95 Rohto® Jolt™ Chevrolet SS for the race on Sunday.
McDowell started the Can-Am 500 with a free-handling Rohto® Jolt™ Chevy. The balance began to tighten at the end of the stage, and McDowell was able to move up to 24th where he would finish the first stage. He reported that he felt the team made major gains from where they started the weekend.
McDowell began the second stage one lap down, as the leaders caught him at the end of the first stage. He took the green flag in 23rd and was racing for the Lucky Dog spot. As the caution flag came out with one lap remaining in the stage, McDowell had fallen back to 26th and another lap down, as he reported his brakes had already started to fade.
The team took the wave around during the caution, which turned into the stage ending break, putting them down one lap to start the final stage in 23rd.
McDowell made his first green flag stop of the day on lap 173 for right side tires only. He then raced until the team’s next fuel window on lap 221. As another caution came out just a few laps later, spotter, Doug Campbell, reminded McDowell to save fuel during the cautions in the likelihood of an overtime race.
McDowell made another tires-only pit stop during the next caution on lap 240, putting him a third lap down and in 29th. Less than ten laps after the restart, yet another caution flag fell red-flagging the field. McDowell had made it back to the 23rd position in under eight laps.
The team continued to stay out of trouble during multiple cautions, pitting for tires, as they played a key role in the 312-mile race. Though McDowell felt that one set of tires may have been defective, he was able to pit for tires one final time after a caution came out on lap 264 and quickly improved. During the final laps of the Can-Am 500, McDowell began racing the best he had all day and went on to finish 22nd, his best at his home track.
“Not quite the day we hoped for,” said McDowell. “We ended up having a great car at the end of the race. Unfortunately about half way through the race we got a little off-sequence. We tried to wave around, but it didn't work out so we put ourselves a few laps down. The cautions never really fell our way. Everyone fought hard and we were able to salvage a 22nd place finish. I’m really proud of my guys — everyone did a good job, and we had a fast car there at the end.”
Next week, the team will return to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season finale where McDowell earned a 10th place finish last year.