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Michael McDowell Not Worried After Rough Six-Race Stretch

Michael McDowell speeding penalty story Dover DNFs

Photo Credit: Nigel Kinrade, NKP for Ford Performance

Michael McDowell and the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports team came into the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season high on optimism. They were coming off of their second Playoff appearance in three seasons in 2023, and they elevated their partnership with Ford Performance in the offseason to further bolster the team’s performance on track.

While the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford Mustang has had a lot more raw speed so far this season, McDowell and his team have struggled through a myriad of ways to collect the finishes they deserve to this point in the season. As a result, McDowell heads into this weekend’s AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway mired 29th in the championship standings.

Before McDowell recorded four DNFs over the last six events, the driver was sitting 17th, just outside of the Playoff cut line. Now, he’s 107 points outside of the 16th position.

“It’s no doubt that it’s been a rough few weeks,” McDowell said at a media availability at the NASCAR Productions Facility on Tuesday. “And some of the poor finishes have been my self-inflicted wounds, some of them have been our self-inflicted wounds from a team and preparation and parts standpoint.”

McDowell points to Texas Motor Speedway, where he crashed from the second position while attempting to take the lead on the restart, and Talladega Superspeedway, where he blocked Brad Keselowski one too many times for the win on the final lap which resulted in him crashing, as instances in this bad stretch where he personally has come up short on the track.

But it certainly hasn’t all been McDowell’s fault.

At Circuit of the Americas, the team experienced a steering rack failure, which resulted in a DNF, which set off the chain of events that have transpired over the last six races.

This past weekend at Dover, McDowell says it was another random spec part failure, which ended his day early.

“Last week at Dover, we had a front hub break,” McDowell explained. “That’s a spec part, that’s a sealed part. We just found out today, we kinda got the rundown, it only had one race on it, it had no damage, it wasn’t out of mileage. So, nothing to indicate that we did anything wrong. It was just a failure. Sometimes you have failures, right?”

McDowell, who was a career journeyman before he latched onto Front Row Motorsports in 2018, says he isn’t stressing out about the current situation as he has been here before. He’s conditioned for this, and at the end of the day, the 39-year-0ld racer is enouraged by the speed in his race cars.

“It’s no fun. But if you stay in your mind about it, it can mess you up. But I don’t,” McDowell said. “If I break it down analytically, and think about it, I can give you good excuses for all of them. Excuses don’t produce results in racing, and we all know that. But having answers is important, if that makes sense. So, if you replace the word excuses with answers, we have an answer to why these things happen. So we’re not in a panic of, ‘Oh man, we just don’t have speed, or we can’t do this,’ we have speed, and we can run in the top-10, and we’ve had the speed to do that. We just have to have everything cleaned up a little bit, and that’s on all fronts. So, yeah, it’s been rough, but I don’t feel like we’ll stay there.”

Finding the Humor During Rough Times

McDowell, despite the recent turmoil on track, was in a light and joking mood on Tuesday, and he even pulled back the curtain on his early-race pit road speeding penalty at Dover Motor Speedway. It turns out McDowell speeding on pit road was strategic move because his crew chief calculated that it would be impossible for him to be busted for speeding because of where the pit road timing line was located on pit road.

“Okay, I’m going to spill the beans, but you guys don’t write this that I threw my guys under the bus, alright,” McDowell laughed. “I gotta tell you, and [crew chief] Travis [Peterson] will understand because we’ve been having fun with this, but we are sitting in the lounge, and he’s like, ‘I’m telling you, there’s 0% chance that you can speed,’ and I’m like, ‘Are you sure? Because we just cannot speed, you know what it’ll do,’ and he’s like, ‘You can’t. [The timing line] is in our box. You’re going to have to slow down, there’s no way,’ and I’m like, ‘Alright, I trust you.'”

McDowell had a reason to trust his crew chief’s calculations as Peterson also figured out a loop hole in the scoring loops on pit road at Texas Motor Speedway a few weeks prior.

“Because a couple of weeks ago, when we had pit stall two at Texas, he was like, ‘You can gas it up as hard as you want on the exit, and you’ll be fine just like [pit stall] one,’ and we know that’s a big advantage. Like when you see guys racing off pit road to the camera.”

Peterson was correct, and McDowell actually had a similar advantage at Texas as what the driver in the No. 1 pit stall had. So, in Dover, the conversation continued.

“I’m like, ‘Are you sure? Because I don’t know if you know, but I’m like close to the record for speeding penalties, and I don’t want to add to them because you guys are saying it’s going to be okay,’ and so we were having a long conversation about it and he’s like, ‘I’m telling you, we are going to gain spots on pit road, it’s the only track where there’s still an advantage,’ and I’m like, ‘Okay, let’s do it.'”

The plan was in place, and on the first pit stop of the race, McDowell comes flying into his pit stall. He nailed exactly what he was instructed to do. But it turns out, Peterson’s calculation was a little off.

“Then we come off of pit road, and he’s like, ‘I told you! That was great! You executed it perfect,’ and then like 30 seconds later, they’re like, ‘Speeding section one.’ I was upset, but I also chuckled a little bit, right, and I’m like, “Ah! You’re an idiot!’ It did stink, but we all make mistakes, and I’m driving it. I nailed the gas going into the pit stall. I knew I was taking a risk in doing it, we just thought the math would work out.”

As the race resulted in a broken hub, the pit road speeding penalty ultimately didn’t factor into the No. 34 team’s finish at Dover Motor Speedway, and as a result, it provided the team with a funny story as they look to dig out of the massive hole that they’ve found themselves buried in after six sub-par weekends on the track.

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