News & Media

Part-timer McDowell shows stuff again at Road America

June 25, 2012, Jill Erwin,

Finish at Road America for Joe Gibbs more impressive considering situation

ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. -- The mid-race contact wasn't intentional, but it was far from detrimental for Michael McDowell.

"Yes, I'd love to win, but I'll tell you this: if I get to do this five more times, I'm going to win one of these things."


With one well-timed bump into the rear of Jacques Villeneuve's car, McDowell sent his competitor off track and out of his way for the rest of the Sargento 200 at Road America on Saturday.

The cars were driving into Turn 5 on the 4.048-mile road course in rural Wisconsin when Villeneuve hit the brakes.

McDowell hit the No. 22 instead.

"Jacques put it three wide, and then stopped," McDowell said. "He drove it in so far, he just stopped. I'm like, 'Man, hey, there's still a race going on here; let's go.' I just got into him a little bit, not intentionally, not blatantly.

"But, however, I did come off that corner going, 'Hooo, glad I don't have to worry about that dude any more.' I'm not trying to be a funny guy but your nerves get awful tight when the 22 is around you on these road course races. It's like indoor karting; you just never know when your buddy's going to run you over. I was glad he was far enough back that I didn't see this white lightning ball coming down into Turn 5 on any of the rest of the restarts."

McDowell had another close-but-no-cigar moment at Road America. He finished second and led four laps in the Sargento 200, one year after dominating the race and leading 30 of 50 laps before overdriving a corner on the second green-white-checkered restart and sending himself out of contention.

For someone who's getting only five races a year in a deal with Joe Gibbs Racing, these near-misses can only feel like so much more disappointment. But McDowell was steadfast in his belief of how strong the No. 18 car has been, and will continue to be.

"Yes, I'd love to win, but I'll tell you this: if I get to do this five more times, I'm going to win one of these things," McDowell said. "If you finish in the top five every time you run this car, eventually things are going to go just your way and you're going to get a win."

It just wasn't meant to be on Saturday. Not only was pole-sitter Nelson Piquet Jr. every bit as powerful as McDowell was in 2011, but the strategy crew chief Matthew Lucas came up with didn't quite shake out the way McDowell had hoped.

McDowell was leading on Lap 6 when he pitted under green for fuel only. Several others had pitted before him, and several came in at the same time he did.

Road America

2. Michael McDowell Toyota
3. Ron Fellows Chevrolet
4. Max Papis Chevrolet
5. Sam Hornish Jr. Dodge

But the cautions never lined up right, and he wasn't able to take advantage of the move.

"The strategy just got a little out of sequence for us," McDowell said. "We pitted there under green ... just to try to open up our [fuel] window and the cautions just didn't fall right for us. We just got a little behind on track position, but we had a really good car."

He's had a good car most of the times he's gotten behind the wheel for JGR in the Nationwide Series. In eight starts during the past two years, McDowell has three top-fives, seven top-10s and 70 laps led. He's also finished on the lead lap in every one of those races.

Those numbers haven't been enough to extend his relationship with JGR -- McDowell is in the second year of the original two-year deal -- but he remains hopeful that if he keeps doing everything he can in his power, then that success will lead to more down the road.

2. -- A. Dillon-11
3. -- R. Stenhouse Jr. -23
4. -- S. Hornish Jr. -34
5. -- C. Whitt -75

"The outlook for me is I want to build a long-lasting relationship with Joe Gibbs Racing and I want to expand my races from five to 10 to 15 to eventually, sometime, full time," McDowell said. "I'm just trying to stay in the door there and perform in the process. If you perform every weekend, it doesn't guarantee you an opportunity anymore like it used to. I have a great opportunity with Joe Gibbs Racing and I'm trying to maximize the exposure for Pizza Ranch and I try to do the best job I can every weekend so they keep bringing me back into this car and I can hopefully build something to where we can run more races."

His next -- and final -- two scheduled races in the No. 18 are at Iowa and Montreal. He finished third at Iowa in the spring, and he was third at Montreal last season. The Iowa race, especially, was big for him as he considers himself a road racer. So to bring home a top-five on a three-quarter-mile oval was a feather in his cap.

He hasn't finished worse than seventh this season, and he plans to keep backing that up.

"We've been qualifying well, getting good finishes, scoring a lot of points for the 18 in the owner's points," McDowell said, "and I think as long as I keep doing my job here, getting close to race wins, eventually we're going to win one."