News & Media


McDowell looking to make most of opportunity

November 05, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Start-and-park driver takes over for parked Busch in No. 18 JGR Toyota

Michael McDowell had established a solid foundation with Joe Gibbs Racing -- whether he knew it or not -- and Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway it paid off with McDowell's best Sprint Cup opportunity in 82 career starts.

JGR chose McDowell on Saturday morning to run Kyle Busch's No. 18 Toyota for Saturday's two practice sessions and Sunday's AAA Texas 500 after NASCAR parked Busch for the weekend for "aggressive driving" in Friday night's Camping World Truck Series race.

Texas Speeds

Practice 2
Pos.DriverSpeedsTime
2. G. Biffle 188.897 28.587
3. J. Gordon 188.745 28.610
4. K. Kahne 188.495 28.648
5. D. Ragan 188.193 28.694
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2. M. Ambrose 185.656 29.086
3.D. Ragan 185.446 29.119
4. R. Smith 185.331 29.137
5. J. Burton 185.268 29.147

McDowell said he got a phone call late Friday night from JGR president J.D. Gibbs alerting McDowell to be at the track early Saturday. Officials from JGR told McDowell they didn't know what the outcome of a meeting scheduled with NASCAR shortly before the first practice started would be.

"About 8:35 or 8:40, about five minutes before practice, they told me to jump in, so not a lot of time to figure things out," McDowell said. "This is an awesome opportunity for me, so I'm going to go have a lot of fun and maximize the opportunity. I know that I didn't really do anything to deserve it. I just got the phone call.

"So it's very fortunate and I thank God for it and I hope I can make the most of the opportunity."

The change involved McDowell getting out of the No. 66 HP Racing Toyota he'd qualified 35th on Friday, where he was replaced by Josh Wise. McDowell thanked car owner Phil Parsons, crew chief Gene Nead "and my guys for understanding, because it's hard to come in the morning of [practice] and say 'I've got a better opportunity.'

"But we weren't planning on running too many laps in the No. 66 and they were very understanding of the situation."

Earlier Saturday, team owner Joe Gibbs put the lie to McDowell's post-Happy Hour contention. McDowell has five Nationwide Series starts this season in the No. 18 JGR Toyota usually driven by Busch, with an average start of 5.2 and an average finish of 8.2. McDowell won the pole at Road America and led the race until a late spin resulted in a 12th-place finish, his worst in those five races.

"Michael has been in our cars before -- he's raced some for us," Gibbs said. "So, we actually felt like in such a short notice. ... We like him a lot; we think he's a great person. I think he was a natural choice for us."

McDowell spent part of Saturday's first practice getting adjusted in Busch's No. 18 Toyota, but ran 22 laps, had the ninth-best 10-lap average and was 33rd on the sheet that was led by Chase for the Sprint Cup leader Carl Edwards. Edwards' chief championship rivals Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick were eighth and 13th, respectively.

In final practice, McDowell ran 45 laps and moved up to 29th on the sheet that was topped by Kasey Kahne. Edwards was eighth, Stewart ninth and Harvick 18th. Edwards had the best 10-lap average of final practice while Kahne was fourth, Harvick fifth, Stewart 15th and McDowell 25th.

"Now, we'll put my seat in, get me comfortable and get ready to get racing," McDowell said. "[Practice] was pretty good. Obviously, you want to be on top of the board [laughing], but that's the way it goes. Obviously the No. 18 car is fast and we've got a lot of laps [Sunday] to get back to the front."

Busch qualified 17th but McDowell will drop to the rear on the pace laps due to the driver change.

Parked


Kyle Busch was parked in the Truck Series race at Texas after he retaliated under caution with Ron Hornaday, ending Hornaday's title hopes.

"The car was good and I made a lot of runs -- long runs and Dave [Rogers, crew chief] and I worked on communication," McDowell said, assessing practice. "I've just got to fire-off a lot quicker, earlier on [new] tires. We had to work on getting the car just a little more comfortable for me. Obviously Kyle and I are a little different -- different size, different feel. So we're just trying to get it to where I can run all the laps and do a good job."

McDowell's never questioned his previous Cup career, which has been understated to say the least. But he said he hopes it makes others understand what he's been up to the past four years, since he made his Cup debut for Michael Waltrip Racing in 2008.

McDowell's currently on a streak of 15 consecutive DNFs, and he's finished only three of his past 61 Cup starts.

"By far this is the best opportunity I've had," McDowell said. "It's just cool to see how these things work out. Like I said, I didn't do anything to deserve this ride, I just happened to be here [but] this kind of answers the question, 'why do you show up and start-and-park every week?'

"This is why I do it. I'm here so if an opportunity like this ever comes up, I'm fresh and I've had seat time [and] I've been on the track this weekend. I've been dying for an opportunity like this. [It's] unfortunate for the circumstances and I definitely feel sorry for everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing for having to go through it, but I'm just going to capitalize on the opportunity and get the best finish that we can."

In McDowell's debut 2008 season, the highlight-reel moment was his violent qualifying flip, ironically at Texas Motor Speedway. But he had full sponsorship and he finished 18 of 20 races.

"I love Texas," McDowell said, laughing. "You can't hit any harder than I've hit at Texas, so it definitely doesn't scare me. To walk away from an accident like that is nothing short of miraculous, but [Friday] night I was talking to somebody and I said 'I feel like Texas kinda owes me something, a little bit [laughing].

"And then, [Saturday] morning with everything that's going on, I feel like this is my opportunity to go show what I can do and a lot of that stems from the opportunity I had at Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 18 Nationwide car so jumping in Kyle's car is a smooth transition for us."