Ford Performance NASCAR: Michael McDowell Dover Media Availability

MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang – WHAT’S IT LIKE TO HAVE SOME MOMENTUM GOING RIGHT NOW?  “It’s been nice this last couple weeks to have some solid finishes.  This season has been pretty up and down for us, so far.  We kicked off the year at Daytona with a decent run and had a fast car at California and Vegas, but kind of struggled the last few weeks at the short tracks with Richmond and Phoenix and Martinsville, so it’s nice to get some momentum and get things rolling in the right direction.  Dover is a really fun racetrack, really intimidating.  I think we’re all a bit nervous with this Next Gen car, not nervous with what’s gonna happen with it, but more of just how they’re gonna drive because it’s such a fast racetrack, a lot of loading, so it’s gonna be a challenge the first couple of laps when you unload there to see what you have.”


WE SAW WHAT HAPPENED ON MONDAY WITH DENNY HAMLIN’S TWEET.  HOW DO YOU VIEW A SITUATION LIKE THAT?  “I don’t know where to go with all of it.  That’s kind of why I stay off of social media, to be honest with you.  Everything is taken so seriously and out of context, and I think that’s a problem with social media is you don’t know a person’s intention, you don’t know what they’re trying to communicate and it’s a dangerous spot for your partners and your team and all the people around you.  I don’t really have a lot of input.  Honestly, I didn’t know about it until my cousin sent me a text and asked me, ‘Hey, did you see what happened?’  And I was like, ‘What do you mean?  What happened?’  And I had to go look.  Obviously, we’re in a predominant sport and the athletes and drivers are held to a high standard and I think that’s OK.  I think that’s good, but, at the same time, you’ve got to be super careful about everything you say and do.”


WOULD YOU CONSIDER 2022 THE BEST START YOU’VE HAD IN A SEASON, NOT COUNTING LAST YEAR?  “I think it is other than 2021, like you said, as far as having three top 10s in 10 races.  That’s definitely the best start that we’ve had minus last year, and I think there’s a lot of potential with this Next Gen car for us to have more good results and be in contention.  We were optimistic about that going into this season that this could be a year for us to really have an opportunity to shine and get better results, and so I think there’s still a lot to come this year and I’m looking forward to some of the tracks that we have circled and seeing where we can stack up against the competition.  There’s a tremendous amount of development going on right now and there seems to be teams that are sorting it out pretty quickly, so we have to make sure that we keep up with the rapid pace of development of a brand new car.”


WERE YOU SURPRISED WITH A NINTH-PLACE FINISH AT BRISTOL?  “I was happy.  I wouldn’t say surprised.  I think I finished 12th there last year, so I had a decent run and was learning a lot throughout the weekend, but my crew chief, Blake Harris, he’s got a tremendous amount of dirt experience from a driving standpoint and from a crew chief standpoint, so I felt like I had a little bit of an upper hand in that regard of somebody that really understood how the track was changing, what we need to do change-wise and setup-wise, so that felt really good having somebody in your corner with a lot of experience on the dirt and I think that played a big part of our result and getting another top 10.”


IT’S THE FIRST CONCRETE RACE OF 2022.  HOW DO YOU ANTICIPATE THE TIRE WEAR WILL BE WITH THE WIDER TIRE?  “We don’t know yet.  That’s one of the big question marks.  This tire in general being wider and obviously with the wheels seems to cool a lot better than our previous car, so a lot of the wear issues and things have been different.  I wouldn’t say there has been less wear, it’s just been different – definitely less heat, but, like you said, Dover is concrete and pretty abrasive.  Typically there on a green track, a track that doesn’t have any rubber, you’re only about 10 or 15 laps into it before you start seeing cords, and so in that 20-minute practice that we have I’m not sure if we’ll have a good indication of where things are at.  I’m definitely thankful that we’re in that second group of practice because I feel like that first group will lay down some rubber and give us a better indication of where the tire wear is gonna be, but I feel like Goodyear has done a really good job with not a lot of information and experience with this car.  The tires so far have been really good as far as fall off and durability, so I feel like they’ve hit it pretty well so far this year and hopefully Dover will be the same.”


WHAT DO YOU THINK THE SPEEDS WILL BE LIKE THIS WEEKEND WITH THE NEW CAR?  “I think lap time will probably be pretty similar to what we’ve seen in the past there.  The bigger tire will have a bit more grip, a little bit different aero package obviously with downforce levels and horsepower, but I think it will actually be pretty close at Dover as far as lap times, within three or four tenths of where we were last year.  I don’t think it’ll be a huge difference there.”


IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU AND EVERYBODY AT FRONT ROW ARE PRETTY HIGH ON THIS CAR.  IS IT DOING WHAT YOU EXPECTED AS FAR AS COMPETITION AND ADAPTING TO IT?  “I think it’s done what we anticipated in some regards.  I think that the hardest thing for us has probably been the challenge of just the limited amount of practice that you have and with the newness of this car you want to try a lot of things because it’s so new, so you want to try different packages, different geometries, springs, stiff, soft, bars, no bars, there are a lot of things that you want to work through that you can’t work through in those 20 minutes that you have leading into the race, so I feel like it’s kind of ebbed and flowed a little bit as far as the small teams being able to perform because there’s been tracks where it seems like we’re closer to the competition than we were last year, and then there have been tracks where we feel like we’re pretty similar, but I think in the next few weeks and definitely in the next few months we’ll have a better handle of what we need to do to get us closer to the competition, so I hope it plays out how we anticipated it.  On the business side, I’m not really sure as far as the expense and whether it’s saving the teams money and all the things that go along with what made this move really important, but from a competition standpoint I feel like we’ve closed the gap at some places and at others we’re similar, but I feel like there’s a potential that we will still be able to close the gap even more so, so I feel good about what the car has done.”


IS THERE ANY ADDED PRESSURE TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS THIS YEAR AFTER MAKING IT A YEAR AGO?  “I definitely feel like you’re always thinking about winning a race, which puts you in the playoffs.  I think what it did for me last year and what it did for our team really emphasized to us the importance of making the playoffs, the importance of winning a race.  It did so much for our organization and our partners and it’s just a big part of our sport to be able to do that, and so more emphasis is on trying to win than the playoffs, but the playoffs come with it.  Added pressure?  I don’t feel like it’s any added pressure because it’s already there.  You’re always trying to perform at a high level and you’re always trying to get that win.  We’re not thinking about pointing our way into it.  I mean, it is possible.  We’re still early in this season, but we look at it as we have to win to have a spot in that, so we’re just focusing on giving ourselves the best chance at that.”


HOW DO YOU FEEL THE NEXT GEN CAR HAS WORKED IN TERMS OF YOUR TEAM AND GETTING TO THE FRONT LIKE PETTY GMS AND TRACKHOUSE HAVE THIS SEASON?  “I think the car has done a good job as far as leveling those things out, but those organizations you mentioned also had a big influx of cash and capital come into those programs and as you guys know in motorsports that’s a big part in development and having the right resources and funds to get the right people and do all those things, so I’m not surprised that those teams are more competitive than they were last year.  I don’t think that is a great indication of where all the small teams will be because those weren’t small organizations.  Those were big organizations that got bigger with new ownership and with new opportunities, so I think those circumstances are a little bit different, but I do feel like there is more of an opportunity with this Next Gen car than with the previous generation.”


WHERE DO YOU THINK YOUR TEAM IS RIGHT NOW?  “Even though we’ve had some good runs the last couple weeks I don’t feel like we’re where we need to be, but I feel like there’s the potential to get to where we need to be, so I’m not discouraged by where we’re at, but it’s not gone as well as we’d hoped, but, at the same time, we’re learning this new car and learning these new packages and there have been places we just haven’t hit it yet, so as long as we can start stringing together like we have the last few weeks, some good results, and keep building the momentum, but what’s important is having a shot at winning a race, so we are continuing to work towards that to where we can be closer to the front to give yourself that opportunity.  We’re not there yet, but I feel like we have all the things that we need to get there.  We just haven’t gotten there yet.”


WHAT’S IT BEEN LIKE WORKING WITH BLAKE SO FAR THIS SEASON?  “Blake has done a good job.  It’s been a big transition for him, not just with his role changing but taking over our program with a brand new car and a lot of changes at Front Row.  I think if this would have happened last year with the old car, it would be a much smoother transition because everybody is learning so much so quickly, but he’s done a good job and I enjoy working with him.  I think he’s got all the stuff that it takes to be really successful in this sport and he’s a good leader and he’s got a good personality to lead our group, so we’re just building and working on it.”


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