Ford Performance NASCAR: McDowell’s Mustang Posts Fastest Practice Speed at Daytona

Michael McDowell, driver of the No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang, began defense of his Daytona 500 championship by having the fastest practice speed in tonight’s two practice sessions at 192.735 mph.  He spoke with the media afterwards about his Next Gen Mustang and what he’s expecting this week.


MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang – “I’ll start with your second question first.  I think coming to Daytona is special.  It always is and, like you said, driving through the tunnel you kind of get that feeling.  I’m sure a lot of you do as well when you come in, it’s kind of the kickoff to a new season and a fresh start and a lot of opportunities, but it’s exciting and it’s fun to come back as the Daytona 500 champion.  Right now, we currently still are until the race happens on Sunday and hopefully we’ll be the defending, but in this moment leading up to it, it’s a lot of fun.  It was cool to get to the racetrack today and a lot of the buildup to the 500 as well has been a lot of fun.  It’s enjoyable to come back as the champion.  And then practice is like you were talking about, situational.  We sort of had a gameplan going into practice of trying to work with our Ford teammates and in particular with the Roush Fenway Keselowski cars.  Did I say that right?  Did I get that right?  That’s a lot of syllables in that race team’s name, and so we wanted to get out in that group and just kind of play around with the draft and not put ourselves in a bad situation where you’re two or three wide, but just kind of line up so it worked out well.  We were lined up four or five of the Fords and then we were catching the Toyota pack, so lap time here is very situational on where you get the draft and where you get the runs, but I feel really good about our Ford Mustang.  We had good speed and it drove pretty well.  It did all the things you’re looking to do with minimal practice and not being in that three, four-wide crazy situation, so I feel good.”


WHAT WAS THE CONVERSATION LIKE WITH YOUR CREW CHIEF ABOUT HOW TO HANDLE PRACTICE?  “It’s definitely a conversation that everybody is having.  I think it always is a conversation down here at Daytona just because the speedway cars in year’s past are so particular the way the cars were built, and then moving into the Next Gen car we just don’t have a lot of spares.  We don’t have a lot of inventory for California and Vegas, so the last thing you want to do is put yourself in a bind in practice, and so we had those conversations, but at the same time this is the Daytona 500 and you want to be as prepared as you can to win the race on Sunday, so just going out there by ourselves and not getting in that draft and seeing what your car is like and what you need to do wasn’t really an option, but we tried to come up with the best option that minimized the risk and allowed us to achieve the speeds that we needed to to see if we got our travels and our balance and all those things right.”


WHAT IS THE MINDSET FOR THE DUELS?  “It’s a tough balance, it really is.  I can’t tell you right now where exactly the mindset is at.  It’ll probably change once we see where we qualify.  I think if you’re near the shiny end of your Duel, you would try to stay there and race as hard as you can, and just not put yourself in a bad situation.  At the same time, track position is important here.  Yes, you can start in the back and work your way to the front, it’s a long race and a lot of opportunities, so it’s gonna be a balance.  You’re gonna have to think about it and as racers once they drop the green flag it’s always a little bit more challenging to think about it because you want to go get that checkered flag, but we’ll see how qualifying goes tomorrow and we’ll make a decision from there and just try to put ourselves in the best situation for Sunday.  We’re all thinking about it though, for sure.”


WE SAW THE CARS BOUNCING PRETTY WELL OUT THERE.  WAS THAT EXPECTED AND IS THAT MORE QUALIFYING SETUP THAN RACE SETUP?  “Yes and yes.  I think that these cars are definitely bouncing a little bit more.  I don’t think they drive any harsher like they did last year, the cars were low to the ground as well and they were pretty stiff.  It’s just a different feel altogether. I think that a lot of the cars are trimmed out for qualifying and you can be real aggressive with the shocks and the heights and trying to get everything for qualifying and then you’ll probably take some of that out for the race, but I also think that there’s a lot of people that were trying things in those first two practices to see what they can get away with – how aggressive you can be.  There were a lot of cars with a lot of reverse skew and bouncing and moving around quite a bit.  Some of them looked very un-fun driving, but come race day you’re gonna need something that you can be aggressive with and that you can tug on the wheel and you can make moves and not be worried about losing the back end or putting yourself in a situation you can’t get out of because your car is too trimmed out or too stiff.”


CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK QUALIFYING WILL BE LIKE?  “I think that the importance of it, like you said, isn’t super high on how it’s gonna affect your result on Sunday, but everybody here wants to have a fast car and wants to sit on the pole.  It’s a big deal, and then also too with the Next Gen car and everything being so fresh and new it’s a little bit of let’s see where everybody is at, and I think tomorrow in qualifying is important from a team morale standpoint, from seeing where you stack up against the other teams and how much raw speed you have.  It’s not super important for Sunday, but we’re thinking about it.  We want to qualify well.  We want to qualify on the pole.  It’s not gonna wreck our day if we don’t, but it sure would be nice if we can.”


WILL IT BE MORE DIFFICULT WITH THE NEW CAR?  “I think that this car, the Next Gen car at Daytona in particular, is the closest to our old car that there’s been a track.  So Charlotte it felt like, ‘Wow, this is really different.’  Phoenix felt like, ‘Wow, these brakes are really good.  The car is very nimble.’  At Daytona, you hear it and it feels a little bit different, but the draft and overall how you approach it didn’t change a whole lot, so I feel like it’ll be very similar to what you had in year’s past.”


HOW DO THESE CARS PULL UP AND PASS?  “It’s a little bit hard to tell with small packs, like when you’re only out there with five or six cars.  It’s hard to know what that’s gonna be like because once you get three-wide and you get in that big pack, the energy in the air changes and so you have more help behind you a lot of those times.  I think the suck up is different and the bubble is a little bit different and it seems like you’re able to hook up onto the car in front of you’s bumper a little bit easier, so there’s gonna be things we’re learning as we go, but really hard to give it a fair shake because like that practice there, we only have five or six cars in line, so it’s hard to know how it’ll suck up in a big pack.”


HOW DIFFERENT IS IT WITH THIS REARVIEW CAMERA?  “Yeah, for sure.  That’s probably the biggest change for me today.  When we were down here for the test I didn’t have the rearview camera, and so today was just learning that of how far back somebody is and just honestly trying to break the habit of looking in your mirror.  You come off the corner and you look in your mirror and you’re like, ‘Oh, well, that’s not the one I need to look out of anymore.’  It was good to experience that.  I had my teammate behind me and moving around just to see your depth perception and where that car is actually at.  I think it’s gonna be easy to get it wrong.  I think your spotters are gonna be just as critical as they’ve always been.  You can’t rely on that rearview mirror or that camera in every situation, but it’s definitely a cool tool that we haven’t had in the past.  It’s fun to kind of learn something new.”


IS IT LIKE OBJECTS ARE NEARER THAN YOU THINK?  “It felt a little bit like that, yeah.  When my teammate, Todd Gilliland, got behind me in the mirror it looked like, ‘Wow, he’s really close.  I think he’s touching me,’ but he wasn’t, so it’s like you said, it’s learning that of how far they actually are and when to make your move and, more importantly, is when you’re gonna make that block.  Are they there or are they not there and it’s gonna end up really bad if they are there.”


DID YOU DO ANY TANDEM OUT THERE AND DO YOU HAVE AN IMPRESSION OF HOW MUCH SOMEONE CAN DO THAT?  “I did not.  I didn’t tandem.  I pushed Brad a little bit, but I wouldn’t call it tandem.  I wasn’t hooked up or locked on, and the main reason for that is what we talked about before is you don’t want to get it wrong in practice and not have a car for Sunday, so I didn’t, but at the test there was a lot of cars that did, so watching that and seeing it I don’t know how long you can stay hooked up.  It does seem about a half or three-quarters a lap, but the thing I did notice is that the two cars that were tandeming couldn’t pull away from the pack and that’s the biggest difference between how we used to tandem versus what’s available now is the first two cars might hook up and they might pull out two or three car lengths, but the pack is still gonna catch them, it’s still gonna run them down.  I’m putting myself out there, I could be terribly wrong, but it’s not gonna be tandem racing like we saw in the past where you have two cars hooked up and they’re racing their individual races and there are three of four two-cars hooked up.  I don’t think you’re gonna see that.  You might see some moves made with that hook up and maybe move your line forward a lane or two or pull out a car length or two, but it’s not gonna be a breakaway like we’ve seen before, I think.  If I’m wrong, you’ll be the first to know.”


CAN YOU GIVE ME A SENSE OF WHAT YOU LEARN OUT OF THE DUELS?  “The last year we did learn some in the Duels.  There were things I didn’t like about the car that we worked on in those next couple of practices after the Duels, so it was helpful for us last year.  Just getting the car driving a little bit better and sucking up a little bit better.  This year, I’m just gonna say it, you’re gonna minimize your risk.  You’re not gonna put yourself in a really bad situation on purpose.  For me, I won’t just because of where we’re at from an inventory standpoint and how important all the races are, and, yes, it does pay points so you’re gonna want to – if you can put yourself in position to score some stage points, you’re gonna want to do that – but it’s really a risk.  It’s probably not worth it on Thursday.  It’s definitely worth it on Sunday.  That’s the point is getting to Sunday and being in a good position.”


DO YOU THINK LAST YEAR’S WIN WITH ALL THE CRASHING AT THE END THAT YOU DIDN’T GET AS MUCH CREDIT FOR PUTTING YOURSELF IN THAT POSITION TO WIN THE RACE?  “I’m not really sure how to answer that, and I don’t want to sound like a jerk but I think it’s probably because I didn’t really pay attention to what people said about it.  Not because I’m too cool for school, but just because I never heard it.  Maybe there’s something you know that I don’t, but when I watch the race back and see it, I think, ‘Man, I put myself in a great situation’ and exactly where I wanted to be with the guys that I knew there was gonna be fireworks, and so coming to that white flag I didn’t feel like I had it.  You never feel like you had it, but that was the spot I wanted to be in.  I didn’t want to be in Joey’s spot and I didn’t want to be in Brad’s spot.  I wanted to be exactly where I was, so as far as credit I don’t know.  I still have the trophy and I don’t think I have to give it back after this weekend, so I haven’t thought too much about what people have said about it.  I haven’t really heard, but I think that Daytona at the end of the race is how these races typically go.”


HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO GET USED TO THESE NEW THINGS LIKE THE REARVIEW CAMERA?  WILL SOME OF THESE OLD HABITS COME BACK TO BITE YOU IN SOME FORM?  “It’s possible, for sure because there’s a lot of muscle memory with that.  It’s not just consciously thinking about it.  It’s what happens in the subconscious, so you have a lot of muscle memory, so I think there will be times, but and how long it will take I bet you by the time you get halfway through the 500 on Sunday you’ll have that habit broke, I really do, because you’re gonna consciously be thinking about it and you’re gonna have to be using the tools that you have to make those decisions.  There’s always been subtle changes throughout the years, going from carburetors to ECU.  There’s a change on what you did and how you start the engine and how you did the pit stops and all those things, and then going to the new dash.  How you do pit road and those muscle memories and habits that you have.  It takes a little while to get used to it, but I don’t think it’ll be something that’s gonna take four or five races.  I think by the end or the beginning of this race on Sunday it’ll probably be pretty natural to use that rearview camera.”


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