Michael McDowell and the No.34 crew head to the Phoenix Raceway for the last race of the west coast swing. McDowell will ride along with Love’s Travel Stop as he competes at his home track. McDowell will also be honoring Love’s Travel Stop founder, Tom Love. The team will carry a Tom Love memorial decal on the decklid.
Practice will take place this Friday beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET on FS2 with qualifying on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. on FS1.
The Phoenix 500 is scheduled for Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
Coming off of a 25th– place finish last week at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, McDowell is ready to get back on the track and close out the west coast swing.
CREW CHIEF TRAVIS PETERSON:
“I am excited for this weekend. Michael (McDowell) has been putting in a ton of work on the simulator and I think that will show this weekend. It is going to be interesting how this new package plays out on the track.”
DRIVER MICHAEL MCDOWELL:
McDowell was a guest this morning on the Ford Performance media teleconference. The following is the transcript provided by Ford:
WHAT TAKEAWAYS DO YOU HAVE AS FAR AS THE NEW PACKAGE THIS WEEKEND EVEN THOUGH YOU DIDN’T DO THE TEST A COUPLE OF MONTHS AGO? “NASCAR shares some information about the test and what they’ve learned and some feedback. Being there and driving that car and having the data would be more helpful, but with our relationship with Ford and Ford Performance we’re able to share that information amongst some of the teams inside the Ford camp, some simulator time coming up tomorrow, but that 50-minute practice is gonna be crucial. I don’t want to say you take your best guess, but you take the numbers that are presented to you and you try to account for everything and hopefully you hit the balance right. The good thing is we do have that practice and probably more importantly than just the practice is the ability to work on it after practice. What I mean by that is on a typical weekend the cars are impounded – your springs, shocks, geometry, settings are pretty much set – but on Friday night after practice we’ll be able to change springs and suspension things to really maximize everything we can for Saturday. I’m looking forward to getting behind the wheel with the new package and kind of figuring out what it’s gonna take to make that work and the coming home to Phoenix is fun for me.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON IF CHASE ELLIOTT SHOULD GET A WAIVER OR NOT? “I haven’t really put much thought into it. Our sport in season is very long and so I feel like other sports – NBA, football, baseball, you can have an injury whether it’s in-game or not in-game and still be a part of the championship and be a part of the whole season. I think eliminating somebody due to an illness or an injury for how long our sport is and for how many races we have is probably not the best way of doing it, so I feel like he should get a waiver. That’s part of it. You can’t control everything. I know everybody has an opinion about what guys should and shouldn’t do, but you can get injured doing anything. You look at Daniel Hemric, he got injured earlier this year with working out and training for an upcoming race, so I don’t treat that any different than if it’s a recreational.”
DO YOU NORMALLY GET SIMULATOR TIME OR IS THIS SPECIAL BECAUSE OF PHOENIX AND THE CHANGES? “We get weekly simulator time. We have our time slot that we use every week. Todd and I split it and this week Zane and I will split it so we each get two hours and try to maximize everything you can in that two hours. You have to be ready to go.”
WAS THERE ANY THOUGHT OF USING LAST WEEK FOR PHOENIX TO TRY AND GET AHEAD OF IT OR IS IT ALWAYS SPECIFICALLY THE TRACK YOU’RE GOING TO? “Normally, you’re trying to be a week ahead. We try to stay a week ahead, so that’s part of the plan is you run through bigger things that you want to try and work through so that your engineers have a week to kind of run those different settings for simulation – not driving simulation but the actual simulation behind the screens – and then you kind of do some fine-tuning, so, for example, when I go tomorrow we’ll do some Phoenix, but we’ll do some Atlanta too and we’ll run through some of the bigger items for Atlanta and then run Phoenix and do some fine-tuning with the package that we’ve already landed on from a previous week, so it’s a little bit of both.”
WILL YOU AND ZANE HAVE DIFFERENT SETUPS TO TRY DIFFERENT THINGS IN PRACTICE OR JUST GO WITH WHAT YOU FEEL IS BEST? “We definitely have talked about that the last week-and-a-half and went through some of that on Monday and Tuesday, just laying out a plan for this weekend. Not to beat around the question, but each team and engineers and crew chiefs have a little bit different philosophy on how they want to approach things, so I would say organically we’re sort of showing up different based on some of the things everybody wants to try, and I think we’re probably more comfortable doing that this weekend knowing that we can punt, so to speak, Friday night and put in whichever package we think is gonna be better between the two cars, so we’re using it as an opportunity to try a few things, probably a bit more than we would on a normal weekend.”
YOUR TEAMMATE THIS WEEKEND IS ZANE AND HE DOESN’T HAVE A TON OF EXPERIENCE IN THIS CAR WHILE TODD IS WITH A DIFFERENT TEAM. WHO WILL YOU RELY ON AND HOW MUCH CAN YOUR TEAMMATES HELP YOU? “That’s a good question. I think it depends on how fast that they are (laughing). If Zane goes out there and is really quick and that package that they brought is showing some potential, then I think it will be really valuable. As far as Todd goes this weekend, obviously, with Rick Ware Racing they have an alliance with Roush Fenway as well and we do too, so I don’t necessarily think that we’ll be able to just get all of that information of what he’s working with and has, but there will be some conversations that take place. I think Zane is more than qualified and has done a good job in any situation that he’s been in so far, so I think he’s still gonna have a value to the team and to the feedback. Race car drivers are race car drivers. For sure, experience helps that when it’s leading an overall direction of development, but as far as balance and feel and what he’s fighting and what his car is doing I think it will be valuable.”
A COUPLE MORE RACES WITH THE EXPANDED RESTART ZONE BEFORE A DECISION IS MADE. WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE SO FAR? MUCH OF A DIFFERENCE FROM YOUR POINT OF VIEW? “I think obviously it had an impact at California just because we all stacked up. I don’t necessarily put the blame on NASCAR or the restart zone on that because drivers are just trying to maximize that gap too much and trying to time that run, so your timing is just a little bit off because the zone is larger. I think if you just go back to Vegas, the restarts were pretty clean and tidy, and the restarts can be messy there at times, too. I didn’t think it would take long to kind of get it sorted out of what everybody has to do. I wasn’t real opinionated one way or another when they were talking about this and having the discussion, but I do know for the leader it’s important for the leader who has worked had to get the lead or whether it’s the pit crew on pit road that got him out in the lead to have some sort of advantage and this definitely helps increase that advantage to the leader. So, I’m OK with it as long as we don’t stack up like we did at California every week. I think it’ll be fine.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING TO ATLANTA NEXT WEEK. IS IT STILL KIND OF ITS OWN THING? “I think it’s definitely its own thing. Both the races there have not been what I would call a traditional superspeedway feel and approach. It’s more that direction, but I feel like it’s pretty unique to what it is and how you race it and how you approach it – even car builds and specs and stuff like that. I feel like it’s still pretty unique, but I’ve enjoyed it. I know everybody would love to get the old Atlanta and I’m in that camp as well, but I’m pretty excited about there being a different style of racetrack in racing. It kind of gets us outside of our box a little bit.”
WHAT ABOUT COTA AND THE NEW AERO PACKAGE THAT WILL BE THERE? ANY IDEA HOW YOU EXPECT THAT TO CHANGE ON A ROAD COURSE? “I don’t think it’s gonna change it much. It’s gonna have less downforce as we all know. The cars will probably move around a little bit more and maybe not be as easy to drive, but I really don’t think it’s gonna be a pendulum swinger of what you’re gonna see as far as an overall race or different teams or different drivers excel now on the road course because there’s less downforce. I don’t think it’s gonna move the needle a whole lot, but there’s a lot more to all of that than everybody probably thinks about. Obviously, the teams want to have one package so that they’re not changing a bunch of car’s parts, having to spend time in the wind tunnel running different packages, different configurations. You spend a lot of time and a lot of money and engineers are spending hours and hours and hours trying to figure out what do you have to do different with this package versus the other. I think we’re seeing these packages be a little bit broader across all short tracks and all road courses and with the rain package and all that just to help not have what we had with the old car, which was like five or six different builds of cars, parts, pieces, chassis – everything you had to do to take a superspeedway car versus a road course car versus a short track car. So, I think it’s just to keep it a bit simple and try to keep the cost down, but I don’t see it being a huge change for those road courses.”
HOW HAVE THINGS GONE WITH TRAVIS PETERSON SO FAR? “Travis has done a great job. He’s very motivated and high energy and is ready to get after it, which is great. I don’t think our results have shown where we’re at. I feel like Daytona we had speed, the car was good and we ended up crashing there with a little less than 20 to go. At California, I thought he did a great job with the strategy. Really, there was not a lot of downside to that strategy. We did run out of gas on that last lap, which we knew we’d be close, but we ended up netting about the same as what we would have if we would have pitted there as far as where we were running position-wise, but it gave us a tremendous opportunity for those 30 laps that if we were to catch a caution to be up front and be able to take four tires and have a shot at winning. I think what we saw last year with the playoffs and how many drivers won throughout the season, you have to be thinking about winning races constantly and if you don’t quite have the pace to do it outright, you’ve got to be creative strategy-wise and I think he did a great job with that. I’ve been impressed. He’s done well. He’s a good leader. The guys like him. We’ve got a lot of new people on the 34 car this year and he’s done a good job of assembling that group and getting everybody up to speed. I think he’s helped implement some new processes at the shop that we might not be seeing the fruit of right now, but I think when we get into the summer and you get to the grind of it, some of those new processes that we’ve put in place should help us be more consistent and run stronger throughout the year. I’ve been happy with where our group is at – not happy with the results that we’ve had, but pretty pleased with the potential on our race cars. Now we’ve just got to put all the little pieces together and maximize it.”
ANY HOPE OF FLIPPING THE SWITCH A BIT EARLIER THIS YEAR FROM A YEAR AGO WHEN IT TOOK A FEW RACES TO START RUNNING WELL? “You would have like to have already flipped the switch, but you have to have some reality. Our program last year and our program this year, it’s the spotter and I who are the only two people left on the 34 car from last year. That’s how many new people we have and that’s not an exaggeration. From car chief, crew chief, front end mechanic, underneath mechanic, interior guy, tire guy, truck driver – every single person on our race team for the most part is brand new this year to the 34 group, so we knew that it’s gonna take some time before we do the details and execute perfectly. All new guys on pit road as well, so there is so much going on right now that I’m really impressed with how well our cars have performed and what we have been able to do with just preparation of our cars and speed. I do feel like we’re still a few weeks away from being able to hit on all eight cylinders, but we’re getting close and I feel confident we’ll be able to achieve more than we did last year. I’m looking forward to it.”
THERE ARE SOME RUMORS ABOUT GROOVED TIRES DOWN THE ROAD. ANY OPINION ON THAT AFTER DENNY HAMLIN MENTIONED IT IN HIS PODCAST? “I hadn’t heard that. I haven’t seen one of those podcasts yet, so I wasn’t up to speed on that. I haven’t heard any rumors of that. I think that everybody has an opinion about the racing and what they think needs to happen, and I think the drivers in general are extremely selfish and you have to be selfish to be successful in this sport. The guys that are and have consistently won races that maybe struggled a little bit last year, they don’t like it. I get it and I understand it. I’m on the other side of the fence where I went from struggling to running pretty good with this new car. I don’t want to change anything. Ultimately, it’s not about how we feel about it or, as a driver, how it’s helped our performance, but, overall, the product, the results, the racing and fans tuning in so that’s way out of my pay grade. I don’t worry about that stuff, but I would like to keep everything the same just because it’s suited me well.”
HOW DO YOU SPEND AN AVERAGE WEEKDAY? “We’ll just go with today since today is an average day. I was up and took my family to breakfast and came back home and got ready. I did a couple of interviews and I’m headed to NASCAR studios now to do the Pace Lap, one of the TV shows that they do there – record that – and while I’m there my kids are on Spring Break, so I’m gonna take them to the NASCAR Hall of Fame since it’s right there in the same area. That will be today. Tomorrow, I’ll jump in the simulator. I would say you have two days a week that are kind of like low key, family days, getting stuff done around the house, kind of button everything up, and then a shop day, a simulator day and a media day. It’s a pretty routine schedule for us every week.”
WHAT EXPECTATIONS DO YOU HAVE THIS WEEKEND? “My expectation, it’s a hometown race for me and it’s a place that we’ve really struggled the last few years. I’m hopeful that this new package will help fill that gap for us in that we hit it just right. But, like I said before, I didn’t get to do the test, so I’m excited and curious just like everybody else to see what they drive like and feel like. You get an idea on paper of how much downforce they took off and they kind of tell you what that number is, but until you feel it out on the race track, it’s hard to quantify what that’s gonna be like, but I’m hopeful just like everybody else that it will help improve the passing opportunities and that cars will slide around a little bit more and hopefully there will be a little bit of tire fall off as well. I think that last year this package was mile-and-a-half, big tracks. I thought the racing was great. Obviously, the short tracks were not quite what everybody hoped for, so I think NASCAR is taking a stab at it and hopefully we hit it and the package is a little bit better.”
WHAT TRACK IS YOUR BEST CHANCE AT GETTING A WIN? “I think the road courses this year will be a good opportunity for us to win. I think last year we kind of showed that we had the speed and finished third at Sonoma and a bunch of top 10s throughout the year and ran up front and qualified up front. Watkins Glen, I feel like we had a shot to win that race as well, so I think the road courses for sure are opportunities. I think Atlanta coming up as well and superspeedways are always an opportunity, so we’ll see. I think the last two years our chances have increased by running better at certain tracks and so you just never know. I think with this Next Gen car if you hit it right and you do everything perfect, you have an opportunity pretty much every weekend, but I think the best opportunities are gonna be road courses and superspeedways.”