For the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career, Michael McDowell has started the season with three consecutive top-10 finishes. Of course, that includes a shocking win in the Daytona 500 earlier this month.
In three races, McDowell has finished no worse than eighth. And had someone told him before the season started he would post those numbers, his response would have been as expected.
“That they’re crazy,” McDowell said Sunday after finishing sixth at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Looking back, the 2020 season was a career year for McDowell. Not only did he earn a single-season high four top-10 finishes, but he also finished a career-best 23rd in the point standings. It was the best result for Front Row Motorsports since former driver Chris Buescher improbable win and playoff berth in 2016.
McDowell and Front Row Motorsports ended last year where they wanted to be and felt they were realistic thinking they were consistently in the 15th to 20th range. After three weeks in Florida, McDowell is fourth in points and ahead of reigning series champion Chase Elliott, and with more top-10 finishes than the likes of Elliott, Joey Logano, and Kurt Busch.
“To make a big jump like we did, I wouldn’t say that it’s a complete, like, unbelievable shock, but it’s pretty close to it,” McDowell said. “We have definitely out-performed where we thought we’d be, especially on the mile-and-a-half’s. These places, especially these slick places, are really tough for the smaller teams.
“I think that at the same time, we had a good run here last year and something to build on, so we came back and made some improvements, and yeah, we kind of shocked ourselves.”
Admittedly, something that has helped Front Row is the lack of development amongst the teams with parts and pieces and chassis. Because Next Gen is right around the corner, NASCAR has put a parts freeze in place. As a result, teams like McDowell’s haven’t fallen so far behind and are building on what they’ve had to make themselves a bit better each weekend.
“It’s so exciting to be a part of this organization,” McDowell said. “We’re really doing it, and it’s fun to be a part of it right now, and I’m so thankful that I get to drive it.”
McDowell didn’t earn any points in the first two stages as his climb toward the front came late even though he restarted ninth with 58 laps to go. But it wasn’t until approximately the final 15 laps that McDowell started making real progress on the competition.
“I think that this is a really big thing for us,” McDowell said. “The Daytona 500 is huge; you’re not going to replace that. But the fact that we’re legitimately running in the top 10, not just here but at the road course last week, too, we overcame a lot of issues last week and really raced our way back into the top 10. To start the season with three top 10s on three very different racetracks. Daytona, everybody knows that anything can happen there, but I’m very proud of my race team. We have done a great job of making big gains.
“To be running down Kevin Harvick with five laps to go for a top-five, that’s stinking awesome for us to even be in that sentence, conversation. It just shows how much hard work everyone has done at Front Row, and it’s just awesome right now.”
In this three-race stretch, McDowell’s results have been career bests at each track.