While the Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing team had a solid start to the season with two entries finishing 15th and 25th in the Daytona 500, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team has their heads down and focused on this weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“As you can guess morale was really good,” said crew chief Dave Winston. “Being racers though, after we talked about Daytona in our morning meeting, it was nose down to get ready for Atlanta. I do not think I heard another word about Daytona after about 8am on Monday. We are completely focused now on Atlanta and the road trip west.”
Michael McDowell will pilot the No. 95 Thrivent Financial Chevrolet SS in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 on Feb. 28. This marks the first time in eight years that McDowell has been locked-in to the race. He previously only enjoyed that luxury for a few races in 2008 driving for Michael Waltrip Racing.
“I’ve had to make around 170 Sprint Cup starts on speed throughout my career,” explained McDowell. “This is the first time I can go to a track locked in to Sunday’s race. It’s definitely a lot more freeing because we can pick and choose what we want to work on during practices and build out our program more. Last year we just worked on raw speed and couldn’t be as diligent with our practice time. It’s a different mindset for sure heading to the track this year knowing we’re locked-in to Sunday’s race. Qualifying is critical and we still will do the best we can to get a solid starting spot, but this gives us some freedom to develop our race program and adjust the car.”
McDowell, a Glendale, Ariz. native, has six NSCS starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway with his best finish (27th) coming last year. Switching manufacturers to Chevrolet in the off-season and aligning with Richard Childress Racing for the 2016 season, McDowell and team look to be more competitive and turn heads this season.
“Our goals for Atlanta are to race in the Top-20, Top-25,” said McDowell. “That’s where our expectation is. We’ve been a low thirty team in the past and we are striving to make big improvements this year.”
Crew chief Dave Winston, who visited Victory Lane at AMS in 2009 and 2010 with driver Kurt Busch, is looking forward to building a successful competitive program for the team.
“Never being to an intermediate track with Michael, the main goal is to be as competitive as we can be and try and develop a foundation to build on for 2016,” explained Winston. “A competitive weekend at Atlanta would give us a starting point as we prepare for Las Vegas next week. If we can build on our package every week, we will have a successful season.”
Debuting at Atlanta in 2016, the Cup Series race cars will feature NASCAR’s new low-downforce aerodynamic rules package, which has both the driver and crew chief excited for the upcoming event.
“I’m super excited about the downforce package and the new Goodyear tire,” said McDowell. “There’s a lot of unknowns with these two changes, but for me, I think that Atlanta is the perfect race track to have a low downforce package and a softer tire as it’s going to put on a good show for everyone.”
“We saw versions of this package last year and the racing was really competitive at both Kentucky and Darlington,” said Winston. “I think that you will see that the drivers with the most car control will be very competitive this year.”
The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race will take place on Sunday, February 28 at 1:00pm ET. Follow the race team on Twitter for updates at @CSLFR95.