By: Ashley McCubbin
The NASCAR Cup Series is used to running 400 or 500 miles on a weekly basis, but there comes one time a year where the distance is extended to 600 for Memorial Day weekend.
Michael McDowell remembers his first couple Coca-Cola 600s, not believing they were only halfway when the crew chief said 200 of 400 laps complete. Though with 12 under his belt now, he has gotten used to it behind the wheel, but says it will still be a challenge for his Front Row Motorsports team.
“It’s just such a long race, but now we have 400-mile races, we have 500-mile races, but 600 miles is definitely a different league when it comes to just the wear and tear on the team and the pit crew guys and how many pit stops you have to make,” he told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “We’re obviously pushing our equipment and our engines to the max for that long. It’s sort of a nail-biting race for sure.”
It also doesn’t help when Charlotte is not the best track for a driver statistically, and that appears to be the case with McDowell. His first 14 appearances only saw one result inside the top-30, but the last seven has been a little better. He has only one finish outside the top-30, with four top-20’s including a 14th in 2016.
If there was a time to turn things around, this is it considering he is having one of the best seasons statistically, currently ranked 16th in the standings after winning this year’s Daytona 500. With a focus on maximizing their results each weekend, he has been able to pick up five top-10 finishes, highlighted by a sixth at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The string of success has been thanks to some critical people in the organization, from crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, to moving Derrick Finley into the role of competition director, as well as their alliance with Roush Fenway Racing and Ford Performance.
“There’s probably 10 key things that have really helped us over the last three years grow and be better It’s hard to weigh one versus the other, so it’s all about people,” he explained. “A lot of the people that were there two or three years ago are still there, it’s just moving them into different spots and changing the culture and just maximizing those areas and, like I said, more than anything it’s just moving a lot of those key people around into spots where they can flourish and really be in their sweet spot, so to speak.”
The critical piece to finishing well this weekend will be adjusting the car accordingly from afternoon to evening to night, per McDowell.
“We’re getting a little bit of a break with temperature drop on Sunday, so that ought to be nice, but typically it’s very hot,” he commented. “It’s just staying focused for that duration and staying on top of the racetrack because the track changes so much throughout the entire 600 miles that you’ve got to be one step ahead of it.
“Otherwise, you’ll be two steps behind and it’s hard to overcome that.”