Michael McDowell, driver of the No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang Dark Horse, was the fastest Ford in today’s only NASCAR Cup Series practice (9th). He stopped by the infield media center to answer questions from the media about starting on the front row for Sunday’s scheduled Daytona 500.

MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang Dark Horse – ARE YOU FEELING SOME GOOD MOMENTUM HEADING INTO THE WEEKEND? “It’s been a great weekend so far. We’ve had a really fast car. Last night, we were fortunate to keep it out of trouble, but able to race really hard and see what we had. We made a few adjustments for today, so smooth. We’re all done now and we’ll get ready to race on Sunday.”

TOYOTA WON BOTH DUEL RACES AND THEY WERE FAST TODAY. DOES THAT MEAN ANYTHING? “They definitely have speed. I think that when it comes to race time they always do, even before their body update, so I feel like it’s no different than any other year down here. I still feel like we’re in a really good spot and the Fords are fast. They did a good job of getting in position and winning both races, but I felt like we were fast enough to win last night and be in position. We just didn’t make the right moves to do it, so I’m not worried about it if that makes sense. I don’t feel like we’re down at all. It’ll be fun on Sunday.”

YOU GOT SHOVED OUT OF LINE AT THE END. WAS THAT A DECISION ON YOU TO JUST BAIL AFTER THAT? “Denny threw a big block and if you guys remember about 10 laps before that 10 cars crashed on the front straightaway. I had the option to do that and decided that was a bad option, so I rolled out of the gas and just the timing of it is when I rolled out of the gas and got to Denny’s bumper the 2 was on mine and so kind of got me out into that third lane and once I was in the third lane I knew our chances of winning the race were over, so I just kind of bailed after that. I had all intentions up until that point to try to race for the win and then once I wasn’t in position to win, then it made no sense to be in any sort of mess.”

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU LOST SOMETHING IN THE TRANSITION FROM THE GEN 6 TO THE GEN 7 CAR? “Yeah, definitely. I feel like I had work to do as far as what I was doing behind the wheel with the Next Gen car compared to what used to work, and so a lot of that is just situational and muscle memory and kind of just your approach of how you make runs, build runs, keep your energy up, keep your speed up, and I think it’s different now in this Next Gen car. I always love hearing these answers because I watch them and I want to hear what other drivers say, but if I was guessing, much like myself, Denny probably just went and studied the guys that were doing it well and figured out how you need to adjust and now he’ll be back to where he was and I feel like that’s the same for me. I just had to make some adjustments on how I was approaching things and what I was doing to change the style because the car drives differently and the runs come differently and that third lane doesn’t build like it used to and keeping the cars behind you and keeping them attached and having more than one, there’s a lot of things that go into it that didn’t play in as much as it did in the Gen 6 car. I think it’s just becoming a student and trying to figure out what this car needs and things you could have done better in the past.”

DID THE PENSKE ALLIANCE PLAY ANY ROLE IN YOUR FREE AGENT STATUS AND COMING BACK? “The timing of it, there were conversations that had started, but they were early on, so I couldn’t honestly tell you that it had an effect on it, and really, ultimately, the decision wasn’t in my hands, it was in Front Row’s hands. Like I told you guys before, this is where I want to be. I want to turn this into a championship-winning team and I want to be the guy that helps steer the ship to do that, and so these things that have come together over these last few months are moving us in that direction to be able to do that and to sustain us for a long time to come. Things are really good right now. I’m happy. I’m happy where I’m at. Obviously, Daytona isn’t an indication of your entire season, but it is a good indication of where we were last year and where we start this year and I think that we’ll be able to put ourselves in position to win multiple races and get into the playoffs. That’s what we want to do. There’s gonna be a little bit of learning and growing process here over the next few weeks, but I think overall once we get into the meat of the season, we’re gonna be in a much better spot than we were last year.”

DOES THE PLAN CHANGE NOW THAT THERE ARE THREE FRONT ROW CARS IN THE RACE? “So, it’s always better to have more and so Kaz making the race is really big for the company and for us. The goal is to have us all together to make that work, but as you guys have seen, it doesn’t always work that way. Obviously, with us starting on the front row, I’m not gonna drop back to pick Kaz up early on, so he’s got his work cut out for him to get up there, but there’s a lot of strategy involved in that and trying to pit together and doing all the things that we’ll try to do to get us hooked up when it counts once you sort of get past that halfway, so it’s great for the organization to have three cars in. Hopefully, if it all plays out, it’ll help us at the end of the race when it counts. The good news is we still have a lot of Ford Mustangs out there, so we should be in a pretty good position if we can keep everybody straight and running all the way to the end.”

DO YOU REGULARLY CHECK YOUR NAME ON THE TROPHY? “No. That’s the first time. I’ve seen it out in the display area and I figure there’s probably only one of these. I hadn’t seen it and just wanted to make sure they hadn’t made a duplicate and I was thinking maybe they’re presenting this to me. Maybe they’re giving us the big one (joking).”

HOW DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU SEE THAT? “It’s cool. Obviously, this is what will last forever. This trophy will be here at Daytona International Speedway for a long time. I get a kick out of looking at it because it goes every 10 years and so you’ve got Michael Waltrip, Trevor Bayne and then me all on that same row. Michael Waltrip, obviously, gave me my first shot in the Cup Series and I wouldn’t be here without him. Michael Waltrip also hired me to train Trevor Bayne. Trevor Bayne is my best friend, and so to see our three names lined up there is kind of fun. It’s not that big of a deal, but it’s cool to see.”

WHAT ARE THE DEBRIEFS LIKE NOW WITH PENSKE AND HOW DO THEY DIFFER FROM WHAT YOU’VE DONE IN THE PAST? “We’re learning as we go here of what that will look like. It’s just early stages. It’s early on. I mean, I’ve always had a close working relationship with the other Ford drivers, but in particular with Joey. I’ve had a good relationship with him for a long time, so that part of it is pretty easy. Now I feel less awkward asking him things and talking about all of it because I feel like we’re supposed to be working together a little bit more, but as far as how that will look every week in and week out we’re still sorting through that. I know all the crew chiefs are getting together and talking about it and discussing things and going over that, and so I think we’re all sort of learning what that process will look like. What’s beneficial? What’s not beneficial? What’s too much? What’s not too much? All those things, so it’s early stages for that, so I think that there will be some learning curves and we’ll figure out what works best.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS FUEL SAVING SITUATION AT DAYTONA OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS? “Maybe not after last night. I mean, the guys that saved really well they only went one lap further, which was silly. They could have gone another six or seven and that would have made more sense, so I think you might change it up for Sunday. I think more than anything is you’re getting data while you’re out there to figure out what the options are and to give yourself more options with longer stages and different windows. Some of that is just gaining information and how slow are you when you’re doing it and how to do it efficiently, but after what I saw last night, I feel like there’s a limit of your wasting time and track position and not utilizing what you save, so I think we’re all learning as we go as far as what that looks like.”

Ford Performance PR