Love’s Travel Stops Fuels McDowell into Playoff Opener

The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs begin this Sunday evening live on NBCSN at 6:00 p.m. ET from the Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
Love’s Travel Stops will fuel McDowell into his first playoff appearance.
Earlier this week, McDowell participated in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff media day. Below are quotes from McDowell provided by Ford Performance:
MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang — WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP LIKE WITH ALEX? “I’ve got a good relationship with Alex. I feel like, not just because he’s from Arizona, but I’ve always enjoyed hanging out with him and appreciate his journey too of driving for underfunded teams and Tommy Baldwin and losing his ride last minute and then getting an opportunity to fill-in, so him being successful I felt like was a really neat story, but also an eye-opener to a lot of the owners that just because you’re driving a car that doesn’t run up front every weekend doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability, so I’ve always been a fan and pulling for him, and being from Arizona, I mean, if we count Tucson as part of Arizona (laughing). He’s got a great opportunity this year with those Hendrick cars being so fast. Obviously, he’s got two wins and a really good spot to contend for the championship this year, so that’s good for him. He did run me off the road there at Sonoma for a top 10, so I won’t be getting him back in the near future here in the playoffs, but if you see him, you just let him know.”
WHO HAVE YOU SOUGHT OUT FOR PLAYOFF ADVICE AND WHAT HAS STUCK OUT? “Even though we locked in, so to speak, early, there’s always that chance that there are more than 16 winners, so I didn’t really feel locked in. I never really allowed myself to get super excited about that until two or three weeks ago when it was finally official that we’d be locked in. As far as advice and things like that, it’s a little bit challenging because the drivers that are current right now aren’t gonna give you much advice, but I spent a little bit of time with Clint Bowyer last week at a Ford event, a Ford promotion that we were doing and talked about the playoffs and talked about Richmond coming up and just how he approached things, so everybody’s got a different style and a different philosophy. I feel like for our team and where we’re at we sort of know what we have to do and how we have to do it, and so we kind of have our own approach to it.”
DO YOU FIND YOU’RE HAVING TO CONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS AT ALL WITH THIS BEING YOUR FIRST TIME IN THE PLAYOFFS? “Today has been fun and just talking about being in the playoffs and what it means. It kind of makes you appreciate and just enjoy the process, but more than anything for me is I’ve just been pretty laser focused on what I need to do and what we need to do. I haven’t really allowed myself to get too far ahead of where we’re at. Right now, we have Darlington and Darlington is the most important race in my life, and after Darlington it’ll be Richmond, so I haven’t thought about a lot of those extra things. I’m just trying to make sure we’re as prepared as we can for what’s in front of us, but at the same time, like I said, I’m extremely thankful to have the opportunity to race for a championship and to be a part of one of 16 drivers to do that in NASCAR. But I’m also trying not to let myself overthink things too much.”
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE PLACES TO EAT AT IN THE PHOENIX AREA? “Being from Phoenix and Glendale and having great Mexican restaurants, that’s probably the thing I miss most in North Carolina. We don’t have the same quality or the same style of Mexican food, so I’m always loading up my crew guys and taking them to different places. My favorite place, Pedro’s in Glendale, actually shut down in the last year or two, so, unfortunately, that ones not there anymore. Macayo’s and POPO’S, those are places that we typically go to. Carlos O’Briens is a place I went to growing up, so there are a lot of great restaurants that we try to hit.”
IS THERE ANY RELIGIOUS ANECDOTE OR LESSON THAT APPLIES TO YOUR SEASON? “I think there’s always a story to the journey and something to take from it. For me, it’s all just about perseverance and endurance and obviously being in this sport a really long time and not having success until this year — a lot of losses, a lot of years where it’s been a grind and a struggle, so that’s probably the thing that resonates the most with me this year is just perseverance and endurance and then also just how it’s paid off. It would have been very easy to give up several years ago and not see it through, but by staying faithful to what I feel like I was supposed to do and grinding through times that weren’t that fun, now I’m getting to enjoy something awesome and experience it. It’s humbling, too. I didn’t have to win the race to feel like I’ve accomplished something, but it has been a moment of joy to take it all in and appreciate it.”
HOW DO YOU EVALUATE THE CHANGES THAT PHOENIX RACEWAY HAS UNDERGONE?  “It’s amazing how much has changed there. I mean, I think I’ve been through three different track configurations and moving the start-finish line and now obviously with everything for the fans in the infield and the experience you can have. The garages and the pavilions, I think it’s one of the cooler racetracks that fans can go to and really see the inner workings of the garage and the teams and just how it all functions. It makes me proud to be from Phoenix and from the area and the race fans are extremely loyal and have been for a long time. So many families and so many campers and motorhomes out there. It truly is a family sport and to be able to have a facility that sort of matches the dedication of our fans is really cool.”
YOUR AVERAGE FINISH HAS BEEN OUTSIDE THE TOP 20 AT THE ROUND OF 16 TRACKS. IS THERE ANYTHING TO GAIN OR LOSE? DO YOU NEED LUCK ON YOUR SIDE TO GET TO THESE NEXT ROUNDS? “Two things with that. This is the best season that I’ve ever had and the best that we’ve performed as a race team, and so statistically it might not look that great but I think if you look back to this year at just our top finishes for me over my career have been this year at a lot of racetracks. I feel like we have the speed and the momentum to surprise some people in the playoffs, but we’re also realistic of where we’re at. I have to have three incredible races in order to advance in the next round and I know that, we know that, we’re not naive to it. We know where we’re at as a race team and what we need to do, so we’ve got to hit home runs here the next three races and if we don’t, we won’t advance. We all know that and we’re ready to see what happens.”
HOW MUCH OF A RESET ARE THE PLAYOFFS FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM AFTER THE LAST NINE RACES?  “The last handful of races have not been fun. It hasn’t been from a lack of performance. We’ve actually had speed. You go to the Indy road course, running in the top seven there and hit the curb and finish in the thirties. You look at Michigan, where we ran in the top 12 or 13 all day and get tore up on that last restart and finished 20th. It hasn’t been fun the last four or five weeks. Daytona, a DNF with an engine failure, so the reset is nice. It’s nice to reset the points. It’s nice to be able to start 15th this weekend at Darlington and just kind of hit that reset. You can’t always control the ebbs and flows of racing. You look at those first five races and were crushing it, not just with the win but top 10, top 10, top 10, and then you hit this funk that we got into now where DNF, a crash, just things not always in your control. So it is nice to hit that reset button and have a fresh outlook going to Darlington, and that’s how motorsports is. The momentum can swing at any point. We have to have the momentum swing our way the next three weeks and we know that. We wish we were heading into the playoffs with a lot of momentum and not a DNF and all the things that have, but the reality is that’s where we’re at and we can start fresh this weekend.”