Michael McDowell Chicago Media Availability

Michael McDowell, driver of the No. 34 Chicago Pneumatic Compressors Ford Mustang, was joined by media ahead of the inaugural Grant Park 220 Chicago Street Race. McDowell is one of the few NASCAR Cup Series drivers with street course experience, having competed in IndyCar at Surfer’s Paradise in 2005; the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series at Long Beach in 2006, and the Grand American Road Racing Series in 2006 in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, Canada.

 

MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 Chicago Pneumatic Compressors Ford Mustang – IT IS ONLY APPROPRIATE THAT YOU HAVE THE HOMETOWN SPONSOR. WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEKEND? “Yeah, it’s pretty cool. We’re excited about this weekend, having Chicago Pneumatic Compressors on-board in the ‘Windy City’ for the street course in Chicago. Looking forward to it. It’s a big weekend for us. There has been a lot of hype going into this weekend, and we definitely feel that this is a great opportunity for us. So, it’s a big weekend.”

 

HOW MUCH SIM HAVE YOU DONE AND EXPECT TO DO AHEAD OF THE RACE WEEKEND, AND HOW BENEFICIAL DO YOU THINK IT IS, ESPECIALLY WITH SOME REPAVING THE LAST FEW WEEKS? “I’ve been able to do a fair amount of sim work, and I have some more this week as well. As far as how realistic it’ll be, I’ll let you know on Friday and Saturday after we see it and walk it. There’s been some repaving, some transitions moved out, and some surface areas that have been added and redone. So, I think it’s probably exaggerating a little bit of the worst, but we’ll see.”

 

HOW DO YOU APPROACH THIS TYPE OF RACE? “Yeah, I think that you’re going to be aggressive. All of our races are still going to be track position, so you’re going to want to make sure that you’re staying up-front and keeping track position, which is generally what you need to do. But at the same time, you’re very narrow, surrounded by concrete barriers, and you can’t make any mistakes. So, that’s what the challenge is of a street race. You have to go for it, but when you take those risks it takes time, so you have to balance when you do that.”

 

DO YOU EQUATE THIS OPPORTUNITY TO OTHERS YOU’VE HAD ON ROAD COURSES? “I think this one is a little bit higher for us. Our road course program is solid – we’ve seen that over the last year and a half with this Next Gen car. But I think going to a new course that nobody has any experience on – tricky and challenging – it’s going to play into the hands of guys that have done races like this, and that adapt quickly. We are talking about the best drivers in the world, so they’re going to figure it out really fast. I don’t think I have an ‘advantage.’ I just feel like my comfort level is a bit higher than the majority of the guys that haven’t seen a street course before. We think about this race as a race we need to go and win to get into the playoffs. So, that’s what we’re focused on.”

 

LOOKING AHEAD TO ATLANTA, HAVE YOU AND THE TEAM MADE THE NECESSARY TECHNICAL CHANGES FOR THAT RACE? “Yeah, we’re up to speed with what we have to have for Atlanta. I think a lot of that rolled out a couple of weeks ago, as we’re preparing. So, right now they’re working on the Atlanta car, and I’d say it’s about 70 percent from complete. I think everything is rolling fine.”

 

THIS WILL BE THE FOURTH TIME THAT YOU WILL RACE ON THIS “NEW ATLANTA.” DO YOU THINK THE FIELD HAS GOT A HANDLE ON WHAT THIS NEW STYLE OF RACING IS, OR IS IT CONTINUING TO CHANGE? “No, I think it’s changing. I think that the track probably threw us all for a little bit of a loop – of just how much it aged in a year and how the grip level changed. The first two races, you really didn’t know exactly what to expect. I feel like now, we have a pretty good understanding of what we need to bring back and things we need to do better. It has that element of drafting, pushing and all that. It’s not like that’s not there. But I think handling is more of a legitimate factor that you need to take in for this race, especially for how hot it’s going to be.”

 

WHAT ABOUT NEW HAMPSHIRE HAS BEEN CHALLENGING FOR YOU? “I think that’s an understatement. Yeah, New Hampshire by far has been a struggle for us. I’m not sure what to pin-point it as. I feel it’s a flat, short track, but different from Martinsville, where in Martinsville we’ve had speed, but it hasn’t correlated to New Hampshire all the time. I will say this though: Our short track program this year is a lot better than what it was last year. Richmond and Phoenix: Those racetracks, I definitely feel like we closed the gap quite a bit. So, I’m optimistic about New Hampshire. I go there optimistic every year, but it’s no doubt that it’s been a struggle for us in years passed. Hopefully, we hit it right.”

 

IF YOU WERE ABLE TO GET INTO THE PLAYOFFS, WOULD YOU BE MORE CONFIDENT IN MAKING A RUN THAN YOU WERE A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO WHEN YOU WON THE DAYTONA 500? “Yeah, definitely. I feel like we have the speed, and the tracks on the schedule in the playoffs lay out pretty well for us. I haven’t done the statistics exactly, but I think last year we would have advanced had we made it into the second round. I think that we’re in the position where we have a bunch of road courses coming up, and we have some good tracks coming up. We have one or two in there that aren’t so good, so we have to manage those weekends well, and we need to maximize the weekends where we know that we can get a lot of points. I think we’ll be right there. I really do. I think we’ll be close to be able to point our way in, but currently, we’re just thinking about Chicago and ‘How do we go win that race?’”

 

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST REACTION TO NASCAR ADDING THIS EVENT TO THE SCHEDULE, AND DO YOU HAVE ANY ADDITIONAL CONCERNS HEADING INTO THIS WEEKEND? “I was excited. I think street courses are so much fun, and just great events and opportunities to bring the race to the people. Doing some in the past and seeing how cool of events street course racing is and how fast the cars look – the sights, the sounds and all those things – I was really excited about it. Yes, there are some challenges – no doubt there are some challenges. I think for all of us: Logistically just figuring out the flow and routine of all the things that you probably think we wouldn’t think about… pit-lane, making changes, just panning out where you’re going to go, what happens if this happens and having a plan for those different scenarios. The on-track stuff, I’m not terribly concerned about. It’s very straightforward. It’s a street course with concrete barriers, 90-degree turns, bumpy, not a lot of run-off, and you can’t make any mistakes. I think all that is pretty straightforward. It’s more of all the other logistics of making sure that you’re at the right place at the right time, have all the right stuff, and can do the things that you need to do.”

 

WHEN WAS YOUR LAST STREET COURSE RACE? “Yeah, I don’t even know. Probably 2006 or 2007, I would say that was the last time. If you count Montreal, I think I did all the Xfinity races there, or all but one. I was thinking more like Long Beach – places like that. But, it’s been awhile, for sure. I think the biggest thing is the visualization of when you’re sitting in the car, referencing it, and being able to adapt quickly to not knowing where you’re going, finding the bumps, finding the markers, and doing all those things. Each track is unique for that, so it’s just being able to do that quickly.”

 

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT THE AGGRESSION LEVEL TO BE ON A COURSE LIKE THIS, ESPECIALLY WITH A FULL-BODIED CAR AS OPPOSED TO AN OPEN-WHEELED CAR? “I think I’m fairly unique in this response. I feel like street courses are so tough by yourself, that your level of aggression is turned down, sort of automatically, because you’re just trying to not make a mistake on your own – let alone when you’re trying to set up a pass and things like that. If you look at our style of road racing, for sure, it’s super aggressive wheel-to-wheel. But, we always have a lot of run-off and areas that have a lot of forgiveness. So, Turn 1 at Indy: You bury it down in there, because there’s an oval, grass, access routes. But, when there’s a 90-degree with a concrete barrier, you’re going to think twice about burying it down in there. It’s just the reality of it. Calculated aggression is going to be what wins this race, and I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of what we typically see on our road courses – in particular, on the starts and restarts.”

 

HOW DO YOU SET UP A PASS ON A STREET COURSE, PARTICULARLY IN THOSE 90-DEGREE CORNERS THAT WE WILL SEE AT CHICAGO? “I think it’s pretty similar (to a road course), that you have to keep yourself in position and figure out where you’re strong. But, I think a lot of the passing is going to start off the corners. You need a good drive off the corners in order to be close enough to challenge somebody to the brake zone. Everybody is so good in the brake zones now. It’s not like you can be five or six car lengths back and just bomb it in there. So, I feel like the passes are going to start by acceleration off the corner and getting close. The tricky thing about street courses is when you’re following closely to the car in front of you, you can’t see. You don’t know where the apex is, you can’t see the concrete barriers. It’s a process. I think that’s what I’m most excited about, is knowing that process, knowing how to set those things up and not being caught off-guard or surprised by when you get close, you have to know where you are. There are a lot of tricks to it, that’s for sure.”

 

THIS WILL BE THE FIRST TIME THIS YEAR WHERE YOU WILL ENTER PIT-ROAD FROM THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION. DOES THAT CHANGE YOUR APPROACH, EVEN FOR SOMETHING AS SMALL AS SIGN PLACEMENT? “There are definitely some challenges, like Watkins Glen when you do it there, because everyone is so used to their routine – how you line up the sign, how the guys jump off and how far away you are from the wall. So, you definitely have to be intentional in thinking about what you’re doing and where you are. For me, as far as preparing: What I’ll do is get through practice this week, run through it with the guys for both myself and for them, just making sure of timing, choreography, and that we’re doing the things we need to do. The guy that’s holding the sign, he’s making sure that he’s putting it where you want it for that style of pit-stop. Everything has to be buttoned up. Any time there is anything that can take you off your routine, muscle memory and what you’re used to, it creates opportunities for mistakes. These races are all about minimizing mistakes.”

 

SO, HOW DO YOU LIKE THE SIGN POSITIONED TO GET INTO THE STALL? “I don’t like changing anything. So, I have them change to me rather than me change to them. So, I’m lining up and doing exactly what I do every single weekend, and I don’t change that routine. So: Have them shift and adjust to that.”

 

MONTREAL WAS MENTIONED, AND A RETURN TO THE FACILITY COULD BE IN THE WORKS. WOULD YOU BE IN FAVOR OF THE CUP SERIES RACING AT MONTREAL? “Yeah, it’s awesome. It was a great race, great crowd, awesome town – everything about that race was a lot of fun. I don’t know if you call it a street race, but it’s kind of on its island there in a park, but it’s a proper racetrack with a decent amount of run-off and some tricky areas. I always enjoyed it, and I think our Next Gen cars would put on a great race there, especially with the long straightaways and really aggressive brake zones. It would be a lot of fun. As far as whether or not that’s happening, I haven’t been in any of those conversations. I hear the same rumors that you all hear. But, I hope so. It would be a cool event, for sure.”

 

IN THE NEXT GEN ERA, YOU CAN TAKE A CAR ANYWHERE. WITH HOW WELL YOU PERFORMED AT SONOMA, IS THAT THE CAR YOU’RE GOING TO RACE AT CHICAGO? “No, it’s not our Sonoma car. It’s too fast of a turnaround for us. We’re a three or four week turnaround just to get everything right. Yeah, it’s very interesting. We talked about having a road course specific car in our fleet. It’s hard to do that with the limited amount of parts and pieces, and what you’re allowed to have in your allotment. So, this is not the Sonoma car, but we will use the Sonoma car again on a road course. But, it won’t be this one. This car raced at the Coliseum and it raced at Phoenix. Those are the last two I believe. There may have been one more in there, maybe Martinsville? This is not our Sonoma car. I will say that as a driver, you want it. You want that Sonoma car, right? But last year, we didn’t have a road course car, and every one we went to was pretty good. Not that I got completely over it, but these cars have been pretty similar in feel, build and all that where I haven’t seen a real outlier. But yeah, the racer in you is like, ‘We need to turn that thing around and get it ready.’ But, the process we’ve been using has been working. So, we’ll stick to it.”

 

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