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NASCAR Cup Series

McDowell Satisfied with his DAYTONA 500 Top-Five Finish

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Michael McDowell was able to earn a top five finish at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday in the DAYTONA 500. McDowell, who started 34th, was able to survive multiple wrecks to position himself to contend for the victory.

The Arizona native only had one top 10 last season and has already matched it after Sunday afternoon’s race for this campaign. McDowell felt like he could have taken the victory but lacked speed and help.

“There’s always something you can do differently, you know we just didn’t have the outright speed to break the plane of the 18 or the 11,” McDowell told POPULAR SPEED. “We were trying like heck but so was everybody else, so when the 18 shot to the outside there he had a big run with a lot of momentum and I tried to go with him to hope that the 18 and 11 would get together so I can maybe sneak a win out of it.”

This is a boost of momentum for his team, especially since they’re not the best funded organization.

“For a small team its awesome, no doubt about it, I’d be lying to you guys if I was over the moon excited,” McDowell said. “I’ve been in the Cup series for over 10 years now, I have one goal, and that one goal is to get a win. I was close to getting their tonight, or at least had a shot at it and wasn’t able to get it done at the end so I’m happy with the finish. I’m proud of the team but that wasn’t the goal.”

Next week as we head to Atlanta Motor Speedway, the new rules package will be in place and we are still unsure on what to expect. We might see smaller teams start to come up and compete with bigger teams. This creates excitement for McDowell as we move towards Atlanta.

“Atlanta is brand new for everybody it a new rule package, who knows it could be like Daytona and Talladega and if it is I’ll do really well because these are two of my best tracks, but Atlanta will be a fresh start for everybody and we’ll see who’s got the speed and how the cars race, and we move on from there,” McDowell said.

McDowell is content with his top five at Daytona, but a win is something that he really wants to achieve soon especially since he’s been in the series for over 10 years.

“I’m really proud of everybody, the Love’s Travel Stop Ford Mustang was fast. We would have loved to pull into victory lane but a top five is great.”

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

ASHLEY ASKS…… Michael McDowell

After a successful season highlighted by a fourth-place finish at Daytona International Speedway in July, Michael McDowell is on the move for 2018 as he will join Front Row Motorsports.

Recently, Popular Speed’s Ashley McCubbin spoke with the 33-year-old about his thoughts entering the year.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts entering the year?

MICHAEL MCDOWELL: Definitely a lot of change for me moving over to Front Row Motorsports – a new start, new beginning, which is always fun and exciting. We’re all looking forward to getting our chemistry and working together, and it’s hard to do that in the off=season. Definitely looking forward to keep the momentum from last year going forward, and trying to build a group around the program.

There’s a lot of unknowns, but at the same time, there’s a lot of hope entering the season.

PS: You’ve been part of a single-car team for a couple years now, so what is it going to be like to be able to have a teammate in David Ragan?

MM: That part I am very excited about. Like you said, I’ve been on a program that has been a single car team for the last eight years. So it’s been a long time since I’ve had a teammate to work with, share data with, and there’s always strengths and weakness in each driver’s program – tracks they’re good at, and tracks they struggle at. So being able to have someone to lean on and build a program with, and for me, it’s very unique because David and I are very close friends off the track. So I think there our on-track and working together in the garage will even better because we’re close friends off the track.

PS: What are your goals and expectations?

MM: That’s a lot of what we’re going through in the off-season in just laying those expectations and where we want to be and how we want to get there. The biggest thing for us right now is we have a great partnership with Ford Performance, and a great alliance with Roush, so that increases expectations entering the year. But as far as number and goals, I want to be gaining throughout the year and a lot of that is starting off the first five or six races strong.

We really feel like we want to be in the low 20s, teens at times, and that’s going to be a pretty big jump but we’re all pushing hard to get there and feel the partnerships with Ford and Roush will help make that happen.

PS: What track are you most looking forward to?

MM: Obviously my background is road racing, so those races excite me, and especially just having a new team. I’ve actually worked with Front Row Motorsports several years back at Watkins Glen; I ran a Cup race for them. We had a lot of speed and qualified well, and were running well in the race and had a part failure. We definitely look at the road courses as an opportunity to run up front and possibly put ourselves in a playoff situation.

So there’s a lot of emphasis entering those events. This year there will be three with Charlotte (Motor Speedway) adding their road course. There’s a heavy emphasis on those races, and superspeedways, where obviously Front Row has some victories as well.

PS: You’ve been racing for small teams for awhile. What it’s like being David in David vs. Goliath?

MM: It’s got it’s ultimate times, and it’s a struggle at other times. So when you’re on the up-swing and things are going well, it’s a great feeling. But also, the struggles of being a small team and being underfunded and all those things when you’re struggling, it makes it tough. It’s hard to overcome and bounce back.

I feel like this last season was a big season for me, personally, just with a single-car team and having the success we had. Now moving forward into this year, Front Row Motorsports has got a great infrastructure and a lot of great people there, so there’s a lot to build on and I feel like there’s a lot to still prove. I know Bob Jankins, the owner, is excited about doing that, and there’s definitely some pressure to move this program to the next level.

PS: Looking back on 2017, what are your thoughts on how the stage racing played out?

MM: I thought it was good. I was kind of skeptical at first, and didn’t know how it would change the dynamic of the race, and the end result. I felt like it was, for me from my standpoint, it added some really nice breaks in the races and a kind of reset – get your pit stops, get your adjustments, and move on to the next segment. It created a lot of opportunities for the strategy so for me, I felt like it was good.

But I’m also not in that position where you’re running top-10 every week and it changes that dynamic of who stays out and who gets points. For me, for the smaller teams, it’s opened up some strategy and opportunities to make some different moves.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

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NASCAR Cup Series

Front Row Motorsports Finalizes Two-Car Line-Up

Front Row Motorsports is hoping a new driver, along with heightened manufacture support, allow them to reach the next level.

The Bob Jenkins-owned organization announced on Thursday that David Ragan will remain with the team, and be joined by Michael McDowell. 

“Ford has been a great partner for us for the past eight seasons, and we’ve agreed to work together to step up our program quite a bit,” Jenkins said. “We’ve got a lot vested in our partnership – relationships, knowledge, data – that we’re going to build on to make improvements both in the shop and at the track.

“David has been a great team member for us in his years with Front Row, both on and off the track. And Michael is a great addition to our team. I’ve been impressed with his talent watching him over the years and excited that he’ll be representing us and our partners next season.”

This will mark Regan’s fifth year with the team after earning them their first career victory in 2013 at Talladega Superspeedway. In 12 seasons of competition, he has two wins and 39 top-10 finishes.

“Bob Jenkins and I have developed a good relationship over the years, both professionally and personally,” Ragan said. “I believe in this team and am proud to have been part of its growth and its successes. I’m excited that Bob and Ford have agreed to take the program to the next level, and I’m happy I’ll be here to help the team continue to grow.”

McDowell joins the team after spending the last four seasons with Leavine Family Racing, earning a career-best fourth-place finish at Daytona in July. The 32-year-old has been involved in the sport for 10 years, winning the ARCA Re/MAX Series Rookie of the Year in 2007.

“Since I first drove for Bob at Watkins Glen, we’ve kept in touch and have felt like there might be an opportunity to work together again, and the timing worked out perfectly,” McDowell said. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a teammate, so I’m really looking forward to working with David, whom I’ve become pretty good friends with over the years. As a team now, we go into the season knowing we have five or six races that put us in position to get a win and earn a spot in the playoffs.”

The team also stated that they have elevated their partnership with Ford Performance, including an expanded technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing.

Front Row Motorsports added that the crew chief line-up has yet to be finalized, and will be announced in the coming weeks, along with sponsorship and driver number details.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

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NASCAR Cup Series

McDowell Says “Unique Feeling” Going Full-Time, Up For Challenge

After putting together solid finishes all year, Michael McDowell is getting the opportunity that he’s waited for over the past couple years – the chance to run the full Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule with Leavine Family Racing.

“It’s kind of a unique feeling,” he said. “I’ve been doing this since 2008. I’ve run a lot of races, but not at a high level. Not at the level that I wanted to be at. So this is the first year where I feel like I’m in competitive equipment with the right people, the right parts, the right partners, to go out there and really show what we can do and do it full time.

“Last year, I think I did 30 races, and Ty Dillon did the other six. It was pretty close to full time, so it wasn’t a huge jump. But, to know that now you have a shot if you do win a race, to be in the Chase and to do all those things that small teams strive to do, is definitely a challenge we look forward to.”

There’s also the opportunity to go to some tracks that he hasn’t been to in awhile, including Kentucky Speedway since the repave. McDowell is also hoping going full-time will allow him to build on results weekly while getting into a rhythm.

The hopes are high for success for McDowell as he was able to post 10 top-20 finishes last season, including four of those in the final 10 races.

“We have high hopes going into 2017,” McDowell said. “We’ve done a really great job in the off-season, infrastructure-wise, and just really getting prepared for this year. We hope to pick up right where we left off, and to do that consistently now that we’re running full time. To run in those low 20’s and be in the ‘teens gives you an opportunity to steal a good result and hopefully, we’ll be able to do that every weekend.”

McDowell wants to keep his expectations realistic as not being able to reach those will “make yourself miserable because you always feel like you’re not accomplishing anything.”

“I know that might seem kind of crazy because we’re all chasing wins, but for a small team and what we have, that’s a big deal,” he added. “Now, we’ve sort of progressed from that stage where it’s not just those top-20’s we want; we want to be able to be legitimate contenders at several race tracks. Obviously road courses and speedways are a big part of that; but, to run consistently up front and to sort of be the best of the rest. There’s not that many independent single-car teams out there anymore. And we feel like we’re excelling at a fast rate.”

The confidence for McDowell comes from finishing the season strong, posting a 10th place finish in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. McDowell noted it was a confidence booster as they didn’t fall into the top-10 following a big wreck, but rather “legitimately raced up there all day,” and learned how much attention to detail matters.

“Todd Parrott (crew chief) brought a tremendous amount of experience to our organization,” he said. “And in the off-season, we’ve made big changes personnel-wise; and we’ve added to the existing foundation that’s already at LFR (Leavine Family Racing), and we feel like we’ve really put ourselves in a great position.”

The partnership with Parrott has certainly been critical, with McDowell noting that there was no hick-up in solidifying communication, with the pair working well together right from the start.

“He believes in me, and I believe in him,” he said. “I think that’s probably the biggest chemistry factor that matters is when you have a crew chief that believes that he has the driver that can do the job and vice-versa. That’s where the chemistry starts.”

Being with a small team, McDowell knows there’s still an opportunity to do well this year, and perhaps sneak out a win, after watching Chris Buescher sneak into the Chase with Front Row Motorsports.

“Seeing Chris and seeing what their team did last year made you wish you were a bit more aggressive, you know? How that played out was perfect,” he said. “It was a win one for the small guys. It was fun for them to be able to do that. But, it’s not just about getting into the Chase, it’s about being competitive all year long and when you get into the Chase, being able to do something with it.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

McDowell, Parrott Return to Leavine Family Racing

Thursday was a banner day for Leavine Family Racing as they announced Michael McDowell and crew chief Todd Parrott will both return to the team full-time this season.

“With both Michael and Todd returning to the team this season we are looking to maintain the consistency we found towards the end of last year and continue to push forward and build off the positive momentum,” said Jeremy Lange, Vice President of Leavine Family Racing. “We had great performances on the track last year and we’re hoping that continuing in that direction will lead to more sponsorships for the team. We do have some partner renewals that we will be announcing soon and are excited to add more.”

McDowell, who has been with LFR since 2014, will compete across the whole 36 race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule for the first time in his career. McDowell led LFR to 16 top-25 finishes last season.

“I’m excited to be returning full time with LFR for the 2017 season,” stated McDowell. “I look forward to continuing to work with Todd as well and kicking off our season with a strong start at the Daytona 500 in February.”

Parrott, who was the crew chief for 1999 Cup Series champion Dale Jarrett, returns to the team after taking over crew chief duties late last season. In addition to Jarrett, he has worked with some of the biggest names in the sport including Ryan Newman, Bobby Labonte, Elliott Sadler, and Ty Dillon. In seven races together last year, McDowell and Parrott scored six top-25 finishes, including a top-10 in the season finale.

“I can’t wait for the 2017 season to get here and look forward to having a great year with Michael and the team,” said Parrott. “I’m appreciative of the opportunity LFR has given me to once again assume the crew chief role for the team and am ready to get started on the upcoming season.”

EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

McDowell Finds Motivation within Abilities, Faith

It took Michael McDowell 297 tries to win a NASCAR event.

Up until his debut in 2008, he has won in whatever he sat in – BMX bicycles, karts, sports cars, and ARCA race cars. The victories became scarce once he entered NASCAR, and finishing near the tail-end of the field became abundant. Times changed within the sport, where youth took over, and others were at a disadvantage. His current team, Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing, sits 34th in points following a 27th-place finish at Darlington Raceway.

However, nobody has ever doubted McDowell’s talent – not even the driver himself.

He managed Road America’s twists and turns like a pro, parking Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 in victory lane after multiple runner-up finishes at the road course. Relief finally presented itself, and those who always believed in him made their excitement known.

“I’ve been close in the XFINITY Series to get a win, and I’ve run second three or four times. I’ve been in the position to win that race and wasn’t able to execute in the end,” McDowell told POPULAR SPEED. “To finally do it was a relief. It was a special moment to be able to do it, and probably more than anything was the response afterward from the garage and media and all the people who were pulling for me.”

His endurance is inspiring, leading to his sponsor Thrivent Financial creating a promotion around the idea of never giving up. Fans can submit their courageous stories, photos, or videos into an online hub through the end of the season and receive a free gift. Through September 12, fans can also enter The Motor To Miami sweepstakes; a grand prize winner will travel to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the final race of the season and get VIP treatment. Despite the incentives, McDowell believes the promotion plays an even bigger role.

He said, “The reason we started it is it’s a cool way to interact with the fans. Not only that, but there’s so much negativity in media, social media, and just in general. To have some positive messages and messages of encouragement and stories of perseverance and overcoming – that part of it is why we did it.”

Pessimism isn’t part of his vocabulary; even before the Road America victory, he remained confident in his team and his abilities. Some would let the lack of victories tear them apart; McDowell thinks it made him – and his faith – even stronger. A religious man, the driver of the No. 95 quoted James 1, a verse discussing trials turning faith into perseverance. Those struggles he encountered before were necessary for making him who he is today.

“For me, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today in my faith and my relationship with Christ if I had come into the sport and had success. I think that when I do have that success, it doesn’t change anything for me. I haven’t let this sport define that anyway, but it feels good,” he said, adding, “That was the thing I was most surprised with; when I tie my faith to performance, I always give it my all and lay it on the line because I feel like we should. It’s our job. God has given me this platform, and I should do it at my best level and my best ability.”

Before his XFINITY victory, McDowell found himself motivated by confidence in his abilities. However, the win provided excitement to crew members and sponsors. He hopes to convert that success into Sprint Cup Series results, but as always, he is grounded and realistic; the two series are vastly different when it comes to the level of competition. He and his CSLFR crew are now focused on growing their program.

Just as he did with the Road America race, McDowell plans to move forward – and stay inspired by his own self-assurance.

“Just knowing that it was possible that I could do it is what kept me motivated because you want to prove to yourself that you can do it. I never doubted that I could, and that’s why I kept pushing.”

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KristenS_Writes

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

McDowell Gets First NASCAR win at Road America

BY FRANK RIGAS/NASCAR WIRE SERVICE – ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Michael McDowell’s Twitter handle is @Mc_Driver.

After Saturday, he may want to consider changing it — to something like @Mc_Winner. 

McDowell led 24 of the final 25 laps of the NASCAR XFINITY Series Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville for his first victory in 94 series races.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular finished .534 seconds ahead of his Richard Childress Racing teammate Brendan Gaughan after two late restarts, including a green-while-checkered that pushed the race to 48 laps from its scheduled 45.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Brennan Poole was the top-finishing rookie, third, in his first start at Road America, after starting 12th.

The top three drivers were in Chevrolets.

The victory was the perfect finish to some unfinished business McDowell had at the 14-turn, 4.048-mile racetrack. In 2011, he started from the pole position and led a race-high 30 laps, but ultimately finished 12th. In 2012, he started second and finished second.

“It means a tremendous amount to me,” said McDowell, who will compete in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway. “I’ve been so close here at Road America. To finally finish it off was huge.” 

It almost wasn’t, as Gaughan’s late charge nearly spoiled McDowell’s day. The 2014 race winner spent much of the day running in the second half of the top 10 after getting out of pit stop sequence with the leaders. On the penultimate lap, though, Gaughan bolted from fourth-place to second after making a three-wide pass of Daniel Suarez and Justin Marks in Turn 5. From there, McDowell – and victory — was within reach.

“When you’re racing your teammate you’ve got to have a little more respect maybe than normal,” Gaughan said. “I almost got close enough to him to make him make a mistake.”

McDowell didn’t waver and pushed the Childress team’s winning streak at Road America to three, joining Paul Menard (2015) and Gaughan (2014).

The win was not without incident. Team Penske’s Alex Tagliani, who started from the pole position for the second time in two NASCAR XFINITY Series races at Road America, maintained that a lap-29 tangle with McDowell was deliberate.

“We were the car to beat,” said Tagliani, who led 17 laps and had just regained the top spot going into Turn 5 when he was bumped from behind by McDowell and spun going into Turn 6. “The opportunity presented itself and he took the fastest car on the track out.”

Tagliani, who finished second here in 2014, wound up seventh. 

McDowell, when asked about the incident during his post-race press conference, said it wasn’t intentional.

“He went wide in Turn 5 and I got under (Justin Marks) and (Tagliani),” McDowell said. “I was alongside of him and he just decided to turn in. Once we made contact, I just came off the brake and pushed him out of the way. And the reason I did that is because if had I not, I’d have been stuck there too and I would have got run over.”

The race was slowed by six caution flags for 13 laps, including one for light rain.

Elliott Sadler leads the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship standings by 47 points over Daniel Suarez.

NASCAR XFINITY Series Race – Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville

Road America

Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

Saturday, August 27, 2016

    1. (2) Michael McDowell(i), Chevrolet, 48.

    2. (8) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 48.

    3. (12) Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, 48.

    4. (5) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 48.

    5. (7) Ryan Reed, Ford, 48.

    6. (11) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 48.

    7. (1) Alex Tagliani, Ford, 48.

    8. (14) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 48.

    9. (13) Darrell Wallace Jr., Ford, 48.

    10. (17) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 48.

    11. (25) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 48.

    12. (6) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 48.

    13. (27) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 48.

    14. (39) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 48.

    15. (24) Ray Black #, Chevrolet, 48.

    16. (22) Brandon Jones #, Chevrolet, 48.

    17. (4) Owen Kelly, Toyota, 48.

    18. (9) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, 48.

    19. (18) JD Davison, Chevrolet, 48.

    20. (21) Alex Kennedy(i), Chevrolet, 48.

    21. (10) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 48.

    22. (36) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 48.

    23. (31) Timmy Hill(i), Chevrolet, 48.

    24. (32) David Starr, Chevrolet, 48.

    25. (16) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 48.

    26. (28) Tomy Drissi, Toyota, 48.

    27. (26) Stanton Barrett, Ford, 48.

    28. (35) BJ McLeod #, Ford, 48.

    29. (20) Scott Heckert, Ford, 48.

    30. (40) Alon Day, Dodge, 48.

    31. (38) Paige Decker, Chevrolet, 48.

    32. (3) Justin Marks, Chevrolet, 47.

    33. (15) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 43.

    34. (19) Kenny Habul, Chevrolet, Suspension, 26.

    35. (37) John Jackson, Dodge, Brakes, 22.

    36. (33) Nic Hammann, Dodge, Rear Gear, 22.

    37. (34) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Fuel Pump, 20.

    38. (23) Josh Bilicki, Chevrolet, Electrical, 6.

    39. (30) Jeff Green, Toyota, Brakes, 4.

    40. (29) Garrett Smithley #, Chevrolet, Accident, 2.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  74.573 mph.

Time of Race:  2 Hrs, 36 Mins, 20 Secs. Margin of Victory:  0.534 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  6 for 13 laps.

Lead Changes:  6 among 4 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   A. Tagliani 1-9; B. Gaughan 10-11; E. Jones # 12-15; A. Tagliani 16-23; M. McDowell(i) 24-27; E. Jones # 28; M. McDowell(i) 29-48.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  M. McDowell(i) 2 times for 24 laps; A. Tagliani 2 times for 17 laps; E. Jones # 2 times for 5 laps; B. Gaughan 1 time for 2 laps.

Top 10 in Points: E. Sadler – 770; D. Suarez – 723; J. Allgaier – 720; T. Dillon – 713; B. Gaughan – 707; E. Jones # – 678; B. Poole # – 669; B. Jones # – 652; D. Wallace Jr. – 606; R. Reed – 568.

Categories
XFINITY

Questions Abound for RCR’s XFINITY Program in 2017

When it comes to this year’s Silly Season and Richard Childress Racing, it seems most of the questions focus on the Sprint Cup Series.

One of the biggest questions is whether Cup-bound Ty Dillon will race for his grandfather’s RCR team or Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing. So far this year, Dillon has made Cup starts for Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing, which has a technical alliance with RCR. The next biggest question for RCR is, if Ty does join brother Austin Dillon driving for RCR in Cup, what does that mean for Ryan Newman? Could RCR expand to four cars in 2017 or could Newman be the odd man out?

However, the question no one seems to be asking is what does RCR intend to do with its XFINITY program in 2017? With Ty Dillon heading to Cup next year, that takes away perhaps the strongest point of RCR’s XFINITY program. In each of the last three years, Dillon has been a strong contender for a championship.

A move for Ty Dillon to Cup, no matter which team he drives for, would create a gaping hole in RCR’s XFINITY program, one compounded by a possible retirement by Brendan Gaughan. A fixture with RCR since 2012, Gaughan is now 41, and many say his father, Michael, wants him to retire and could withdraw his South Point Casino sponsorship at the end of 2016.

There is a bit of a youth movement at RCR with the arrival of Brandon Jones. After sharing rides with Austin Dillon and Paul Menard in 2015, Jones was given a full-time ride in the #33 for RCR this year. This season, he has eight Top 10s. Jones is pretty much a lock to continue to drive for RCR next year.

RCR’s fourth entry, the No. 2 Chevrolet Camaro, has featured a multitude of drivers in 2016 including the elder Dillon, Menard, Sam Hornish, Jr., AJ Allmendinger, Michael McDowell and Ben Kennedy. While such an “All-Star lineup” could continue in 2017 (not unlike JR Motorsports’ No. 88 entry), that could also open the door for RCR to bring someone like Kennedy up to the XFINITY Series full-time next year. Kennedy currently races full-time in the Camping World Truck Series, where he sits 9th in points while competing for GMS Racing, which has a technical alliance with RCR.

What may hurt RCR in its hunt to fill XFINITY seats in 2017 is their lack of a Truck program. Both of the Dillons spent time in the series before moving up, with Austin winning the series championship in 2011. Unfortunately, Richard Childress Racing eliminated their Camping World Truck Series program in 2013, which means they must go elsewhere to find XFINITY series talent.

With only one seat spoken for (Jones), another dependent on a postponed retirement (Gaughan) and a third being used for Cup regulars, there are as many questions for RCR regarding their XFINITY program as there are for their Cup program for 2017.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

McDowell Earns Season-Best at Daytona

Michael McDowell’s season-best finish coming into Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona was a 15th-place finish in the Daytona 500.

No longer.

McDowell improved on that stat Saturday, avoiding a barrage of crashes to pilot the No. 95 Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet to tenth-place run.

“It was a great finish for us. Anytime you come out of Daytona with a top 10 is a good night. The race ended up working out for us and we were able to come away with a good finish,” McDowell told POPULAR SPEED.

After starting 37th, McDowell clawed his way through the field and put himself in a position to earn a top-five finish.

The Big One struck on Lap 90, opening the door for McDowell to make up some ground. Nearly half the field was involved, with many taking their machines behind the wall.

With 50 laps remaining, McDowell was in 18th, but three late cautions helped him move forward. He gained three positions on pit road courtesy of his pit crew which put him in the top 15.

When the caution flew with less than 10 laps remaining, McDowell elected not to pit, lining up eighth on the restart in the preferred outside lane.

Prior to the final caution, he gained three more positions on the racetrack.

The final caution sent the race into overtime and McDowell would restart fifth on the inside.

The Glendale, Arizona native lost a few spots in the closing laps, yet managed to bring the car home with his third Daytona top-10 finish and build confidence heading into the summer stretch.

“We had a shot at a top five at the end, but ended up getting shuffled back a few spots,” McDowell said.

CSLFR may be a small team, but it does not mean they are content with running well only at Daytona.

“This is why we do this. We want to run well every weekend, not just at the superspeedways,” McDowell said.

2016 is the first full-time season for what was formerly Leavine Family Racing. McDowell and Richard Childress Racing Xfinity Series driver Ty Dillon have split time behind the wheel.

“We had a lot of changes in the offseason. So many things happened, and we’re just starting to catch up now,” McDowell said. “We’ve made good progress but we think we can get a few more spots (in the standings). The second half of the season should be good for us.”

Prior to the start of this season, Joe Falk’s Circle Sport and Bob Leavine’s team merged. Because of Circle Sport’s time on the circuit, they were granted one of NASCAR’s 36 charters.

LFR also switched manufacturers this year, racing Chevrolets thanks to an alliance with Richard Childress Racing.

McDowell’s next Sprint Cup start will come at New Hampshire in two weeks, as Dillon will drive the No. 95 at Kentucky this weekend.

Shane Carlson is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL SHANE AT shane.carlson@popularspeed.com
TWITTER: @ShaneCarlson4

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

RCR Names Lineup for Standalone XFINITY Races

Richard Childress Racing announced its driver lineup for the No. 2 Chevrolet Camaro in standalone NASCAR XFINITY Series races Wednesday.

Ben Kennedy will make his debut behind the wheel of the Rudd Chevrolet in the American Ethanol E15 250 Presented by Enogen at Iowa Speedway on June 19. Kennedy currently competes in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, where he has one top-10 finish in six starts this season. In three truck series starts at Iowa, Kennedy has one top-10 finish.

Sam Hornish Jr. will return to the XFINITY Series July 30 at Iowa Speedway, and is scheduled to start the No. 2 Chevrolet in the September 24 race at Kentucky Speedway. Hornish has three career wins, seven poles, and 32 top-five finishes, including a victory at Iowa in 2014.

Sprint Cup Series veteran A.J. Allmendinger will join RCR at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 13. Allmendinger last appeared in the series in 2013, when he made two starts for Team Penske, winning at Road America and Mid-Ohio.

Another Sprint Cup veteran, Michael McDowell, will pilot the No. 2 Rheem Chevrolet at Road America. Paul Menard won at Road America for RCR last season, McDowell has four starts at the Elkhart Lake, Wisc. road course, including one pole and a runner-up finish in 2012.

RCR has won the last two races at Road America with drivers Paul Menard and Brendan Gaughan.

“I’m looking forward to working with this talented group of drivers,” said Danny Stockman, crew chief for the No. 2 team. “It’s going to be great to work with Ben [Kennedy] in his XFINITY Series debut and also with all the veteran drivers. They’ll bring a lot to the table for us. I’m confident we’ll have a shot to win with all of these guys.”

“We’re working hard to put together a driver lineup that allows us to compete for the XFINITY Series owner’s championship,” said Mike Dillon, RCR’s vice president of competition. “With Ben, Sam, A.J. and Michael joining Austin [Dillon] and Paul [Menard] in the No. 2 Camaro seat, I’m confident we’ll be able to challenge for the title this season and be a threat to win in each of the races.”

Dillon and Menard will continue to share the seat of the No. 2 Chevrolet for the remainder of the 2016 season.