There are a number of reasons Michael McDowell is optimistic heading into the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season with Front Row Motorsports.
Not only is McDowell coming off his best finish in the Cup Series standings, 23rd, but he’s looking forward to the change in the Cup Series schedule. This year’s slate will feature seven road courses with the addition of Circuit of Americas, Road America, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course and a return to Daytona International Speedway’s 3.61-mile layout.
"Very excited for us and for our team to have a couple more opportunities," McDowell said. "Going to COTA that’s a place that I have never been, which there’s not a lot of tracks like that in North America road courses that I haven’t been to. I got excited then I realized hey, I’m in the same boat as everybody else.
"Road America, obviously, you know where I got my Xfinity win and have led a lot of laps and sat on the pole there. I haven’t raced every Xfinity race there but majority of them. So, I feel good about that and having a little bit of seat time.
"I’m excited about the opportunity. I’m excited about where we’re going as a race team."
McDowell’s win at Road America came in 2016 with Richard Childress Racing. In fact, four of his six career top fives in the Xfinity Series have come at road courses. Last year, McDowell recorded a 10th-place finish in the Cup Series’ debut at the Daytona road course.
Another area that the No. 34 team will look to capitalize will be at the superspeedways. Last year marked the first time as a member of Front Row that McDowell did not post a top 10 at either Daytona or Talladega in one season.
"Those are usually our big races," said McDowell, who has scored seven of his 12 career Cup top 10s at Daytona or Talladega. "They just didn’t pan out last year. We had some big races and those were Indy and Pocono and the road courses, but no big moments at superspeedways."
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With the Next Gen car on the horizon, the regulations that were put in place for 2020 to help with cost containment have helped Front Row.
"We’re not a small team, but we’re a fairly small team when you think of the sheer volume of a Hendrick or Penske or a Joe Gibbs Racing," McDowell said. "That development freeze has actually helped us quite a bit because we’re able to focus on the details a little bit better. We’re not having to redesign and re-engineer parts and pieces, clips and chassis’ and all those things. So, I feel like that’s helped us just kind of work on making our race cars a better product and you know, this year is kind of the same thing.
"Not a lot of changes a few updates…but for the most part same car, same pieces, just refined. I think that gives me a lot of optimism knowing that there hasn’t been these huge developments in the offseason for a lot of these organizations."
The season will see McDowell be teammates with a rookie for third consecutive year at Front Row. Throughout his career, McDowell has enjoyed helping mentor young drivers and has already spent time with Anthony Alfredo, who joins the team to drive the No. 38 Ford, on the simulator. Daytona will mark Alfredo’s Cup Series debut.
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"What I enjoy about it is, you know for me, I’ve always had some sort of coaching element a part of my racing," McDowell said. "I’ve always sort of helped guys along and even when I got into NASCAR, I did a lot of road race training with young guys coming up. So that’s always sort of been part of my DNA is doing some training and working with guys. Each situation is a little bit different."