It’s McDowell’s Nationwide Career That Is Rolling Now
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
It was a scene that would make even the most cynical person feel good about the sport of NASCAR racing. Michael McDowell, who lost his Sprint Cup ride last year and is running a partial Nationwide Series schedule this year, had just rolled to a stop after putting his No. 47 on top of the scoreboard during qualifying for the 300-miler at Nashville Superspeedway.
Although it was very early in the session, McDowell, a 23-year-old Phoenix native, was smiling as if he’d won the Daytona 500. The smile remained as Carl Edwards, the next driver out, beat his time but climbed from his own car and went straight to McDowell and congratulated his young competitor on the fine performance.
“Good lap, man,” Edwards said.
Even after Edwards and the others walked away, McDowell stood alone on pit road beside his car, occasionally glancing at the scoreboard, which would eventually show him qualifying third. And he was still smiling as big as ever.
It was a great moment, a sign of better days ahead.
“That’s what drivers do,” McDowell said in explaining his enthusiasm for a seemingly minor feat. “It’s tough for guys like myself who haven’t won races and sat on poles.” He said a strong qualifying run, and congratulations from a veteran like Edwards “makes you feel like you belong.”
Most folks remember McDowell mostly for a nasty tumble at Texas last year during qualifying for his first superspeedway Sprint Cup race. McDowell smashed the wall, then barrel-rolled down the track in a gruesome accident. Mercifully, he was uninjured and went on to tell his story on national TV news shows.
But it was a harbinger of things to come for his Cup career. Soon he was out of his ride in the No. 00. Like many aspiring young drivers, his chance at the big show came before he was experienced enough to capitalize on it.
“That’s for sure,” he said. But what’s a young driver with limited resources and opportunities to do with an offer to race in Cup?
“It was a no-brainer,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of opportunities for guys like myself without a sponsor or a big checkbook. I only had a few other options, one of them being a test driver. It was a good opportunity for me to learn at the highest levels.”
Now he’s rebuilding his career on more solid ground, running a 16-race Nationwide schedule for JTG Daugherty Racing. If there’s a person who can make a Nationwide sponsorship work in a tight economy, it’s team co-owner Tad Geschickter. He and McDowell are being creative in their approach, using traditional business-to-business marketing and some old fashioned one-on-one selling.
On the way to Nashville, McDowell drove his own motorcoach. Every time he and his family stopped for food or fuel, he passed out his sponsor’s product – Tom’s snacks.
The reaction was interesting, to say the least.
“It was a mix of, ‘What’s that guy selling?’ and some others who sort of knew who I was,” he said. “It was neat.”
The marketing effort was captured on video for future use.
But McDowell will remember his Nashville trip for more than just a qualifying lap and a snack sales tour. On a late-race restart, he found himself in the lead, but with the great disadvantage of having older tires while his challengers, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano had fresh rubber.
Still McDowell took off and grabbed the lead and pulled away, holding the top spot for seven laps. It was his first time leading a Nationwide race.
“I started getting the idea that I was going to win that race,” he said “But when the tire pressures came up I was a sitting duck. ”
Still he was smiling after slipping to 15th place even as Kyle Busch was scowling after running second to Logano. McDowell said he has a lot to smile about.
He has a new car to race this weekend at his home track, Phoenix International Raceway, and a crew eager to build on their Nashville performance.
“I feel fortunate to have a job and get to race every weekend,” McDowell said. “Life is not that tough for a race car driver.”One Comment