HOMESTEAD, Fla — What an unpredictable season that we’re off to in the NASCAR Cup Series. We’ve had three straight winners in which no one would have predicted that any would have won. But, the biggest shock isn’t that Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell and William Byron have each won the opening three races to the season, it’s that McDowell has had a top 10 in each race at that.
“That they’re crazy,” McDowell said following a sixth place finish in Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 on what he would say to someone if they told him before the season started that he’d have a top 10 in each of the first 3 weeks. “You know, I think that we are realistic about where we finished the year and where we wanted to be, and we thought that we were in that 15th to 20th range pretty consistent last year.
“To make a big jump like we did, I wouldn’t say that it’s a complete, like, unbelievable shock, but it’s pretty close to it. We have definitely out-performed where we thought we’d be, especially on the mile-and-a-half. These places, especially these slick places are really tough for the smaller teams. I think that at the same time we had a good run here last year and something to build on, so we came back and made some improvements, and yeah, we kind of shocked ourselves.”
McDowell, has always been good on superspeedway’s. It was only a matter of time to when he finally broke down the barriers of victory lane. The thing is, he’s even better on road courses. That’s why despite driving for an underfunded team, it was somewhat surprising that he was 0-for-357 prior to this past year’s Daytona 500.
But, to win like he did at Daytona, then back that up with an eighth place result on the Daytona road course a week later, it was a solid start to the year. Even with a flat tire early last week and a rebound, it’s still Daytona and that track is nothing short of unpredictable.
“Yeah, I think that it’s been kind of a steady progress,” McDowell said. “Homestead last year for us was a big step forward. We ran in the top 15 most of the night. I think we ended up finishing 15th. But we felt like we were pretty close to being in that top-10 speed. When you get to 15th those next few spots are pretty hard, but we felt like we were pretty close on it.”
Another reason for this resurgence is that there’s a new car coming out next year. With a similar package in 2021 as there was in 2019 and again in 2020, why develop much more when it’s going to be trashed at seasons end?
“I think one of the biggest things for us is there hasn’t been a tremendous amount of development, not new chassis, new parts, new pieces,” McDowell continued. “We used to fall so far behind, but now I feel like we’re able to build on what we had in the past and make our cars a little bit better each time we come to the racetrack without changing all the fundamental pieces and kind of starting over and having to re-engineer everything.
“It’s kind of simplified the process for us a little bit just to keep building on what we have and try to make it better. But what an incredible run for our Front Row team. It’s so exciting to be a part of this organization. We’re really doing it, and it’s fun to be a part of it right now, and I’m so thankful that I get to drive it.
“I didn’t do anything different tonight as far as me. I didn’t come with a different approach of how I was going to drive it. I just did what I normally did do, and we were fast. Really thankful we had a strong car tonight.”
Still, McDowell says that eventually the bigger teams will rise to the top.
“The best teams and the top teams will always be the top teams,” he said. “They just consistently do it just a tad better. Pit road, execution, lighter, faster, more downforce. We’ll just take it as it goes.
“The one thing about this 34 team is we race our guts out, and if we have a 25th place car we’re going to race our guts out and finish 23rd. And if we’ve got a 10th place car we’re going to race our guts out and finish eighth. We just come into it with an open mind and just doing everything we can to get the most we can. Obviously if we keep this streak going and 10 races from now we’re still running in the top 10, I’ll probably feel a little bit different about it. I’d tell you, yeah, we’re definitely going to do this every week, but right now we’re going to take it one week at a time and just keep fighting hard and see what the season brings.”
McDowell, says that this still is a really big thing for them to do at the start of the year and they hope that they can continue this as long as possible.
“The Daytona 500 is huge,” McDowell said. “You’re not going to replace that. But the fact that we’re legitimately running in the top 10, not just here but at the road course last week, too, we overcame a lot of issues last week and really raced our way back into the top 10. To start the season with three top 10s on three very different racetracks. Daytona, everybody knows that anything can happen there, but I’m very proud of my race team. We have done a great job of making big gains. To be running down Kevin Harvick with five laps to go for a top 5, that’s stinking awesome for us to even be in that sentence, conversation. It just shows how much hard work everyone has done at Front Row, and it’s just awesome right now.”