Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell turned in a seventh-place finish at Circuit of the Americas, his fifth top-10 of the 2021 season. This performance was his second top-10 at a road course, which sets him up for success in the remaining events away from ovals. The driver of the No. 34 Ford Mustang will look to capitalize on an “opportunity year” while fighting for wins at the other road course races on the NASCAR schedule.
McDowell met with Heavy and other media members on Tuesday, May 25, to discuss the first half of the regular season, the Coca-Cola 600, and fighting for playoff spots. He explained during this availability that preparation is a key factor in his top-10 finishes in the first two road course races of the season, as well as the strong performances at superspeedways. McDowell still has some work to do before he is satisfied with his overall performance, but he said that these past races boost his confidence as more road course events approach.
“We still are not where we want to be even with our road course program,” McDowell told Heavy. “We need to make some gains to be in that top five and really being able to compete with the Hendrick cars and the Gibbs cars. We feel like we are able to be in the game and have a shot at running in the top 10, but we aren’t quite where we need to be to really challenge for the wins and be top three and top five.”
The 2021 Schedule is Perfect for McDowell’s Skill Set
Prior to the 2021 season, McDowell and the Front Row Motorsports team looked at the schedule and determined that they had several opportunities to contend for wins. There were several events that fit perfectly into the veteran’s skill set.
“The schedule we knew was going to be more favorable for us with more road courses and, obviously, superspeedways have been a strength of ours for several years,” McDowell continued. “We knew this was an opportunity year with as many road courses are there is, and we feel like we’ve done a good job with scoring points and managing the season knowing that we have some really good tracks coming up in the schedule.”
The season started with McDowell winning the Daytona 500 and securing a Crown Jewel in his first trip to Victory Lane. He then added two more top-10s, a third-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway, and seventh at COTA. He will now prepare for the back half of the regular season, which includes trips to Sonoma, Watkins Glen, and the Charlotte Roval.
The schedule also includes a date at Road America. The Cup Series has not raced at the road course since 1956, but McDowell has experience from his Xfinity Series career. He previously raced to Victory Lane during a 2016 race, holding off Brendan Gaughan and Brennan Poole.
McDowell Sits Squarely in the Playoff Picture
The Front Row Motorsports driver is midway through the regular season, and he is in the midst of the playoff picture. He won the first race of the season and then added more top-fives to his season stats. Based on these performances, McDowell currently sits in 16th place with 329 points, but his placement does not tell the full story.
McDowell may only sit on the cutoff line, but he has an advantage over the drivers currently above him. He has a win, the most important factor as the playoffs approach. The regular-season points leader and the 15 winningest drivers from the 2021 season make it to the playoffs under the current format. There are only 11 drivers with wins so far.
McDowell will have to continue performing well in order to reach the playoffs. He can’t afford to slip up and let other drivers knock him out. Fortunately for Front Row Motorsports, the upcoming races bode well for his chances, especially as the team prepares for Road America and the return to Daytona International Speedway.