NASCAR – NASCAR Arizona drivers search for success as series hits home state

NASCAR – NASCAR Arizona drivers search for success as series hits home state


Michael Knight, Special to Arizona Republic
Published 5:14 p.m. MT Nov. 7, 2018 | Updated 5:17 p.m. MT Nov. 7, 2018

The grand opening of their transformed home-state track likely will be one of the few reasons Arizona’s two full-time NASCAR drivers have to smile this season.

Maybe ISM Raceway will be the place where Alex Bowman, of Tucson, and Michael McDowell, of Glendale, can get their motor mojo going in Sunday’s Can-Am 500.

They are the only two Arizona natives to win a NASCAR national series race, both in the second-tier Xfinity Series. McDowell won in 2016; Bowman last year.

So their revved-up expectations of February, at the season-opening Daytona 500, were understandable, if as yet unfulfilled.

Bowman was beginning his first full Monster Energy Cup Series campaign as the retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement in the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet fielded by powerhouse owner Rick Hendrick. McDowell had joined more modestly funded Front Row Motorsports in the No. 34 Love’s/Luber Finer Ford with his friend, David Ragan, as teammate.

But Daytona turned out to be a performance pinnacle. Bowman qualified on the pole, only to finish 17th. McDowell took the checkered flag ninth, and hasn’t topped that since.

“Pretty frustrating,” said Bowman, 25, who has one third-place result and almost won Phoenix from the pole two years ago.

CLOSE

This is a first look, Wednesday, October 3, 2018, at ISM Raceway in Avondale, Arizona, after a $178 million renovation.
Tom Tingle, The Republic | azcentral.com

“We started out with some strong runs but then had a lot of misfortunes through the middle of the year,” said McDowell, 33. “We didn’t execute quite as well as we’d hoped to. There’s been disappointments where we could have had solid top-20 runs. We lost a lot of points in the process.”

Bowman did qualify for the 16-driver playoff field, based on points, but was eliminated after round two. He’s now 15th in the standings, only eight points behind teammate and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, as the Hendrick cars have lacked outright speed.

“It didn’t affect my confidence level at all,” he said. “All four of us (Bowman, Johnson, Chase Elliott, William Byron) have been about the same. Chase (three wins) has had some really good runs the last few weeks but the three others of us are still struggling a bit.

“If the three other cars were winning races and I was struggling, I’d probably be beating myself up a little bit. We’re running about the same as Jimmie so I can’t get down on myself too much.”

The boss agrees. Hendrick extended Bowman’s contract through 2020.

McDowell is 26th, just behind Ragan, and said both plan to be back with Front Row in 2019.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, cites McDowell and his team as important to NASCAR.

“Michael is a great ambassador for the sport who’s participated in probably some under-funded teams but performed at a high level,” O’Donnell said.

“The goal for NASCAR is not for Front Row to win the championship next year, but to have that path to where they can. Right now we’re challenged in that area. All of this (2019 rules changes) is put into place to be one of many pillars that we utilize to get more like other sports where a team has a chance to win. Maybe not win consistently, but to continue to improve throughout the year to get to that championship level.

“Front Row is a good example of a team we want to see continue to progress up the points standards every year. If we’re seeing that I think the sport will be in a much better position.”

Phoenix’s short-track ace JJ Yeley has competed in fewer than half the Cup races and focused on the Xfinity Series. He has no top-10 finishes on either tour but is entered in both this weekend and debuting new sponsor She Beverage Co. on the No. 23 Cup Toyota.

McDowell calls the modernized raceway “a source of pride.”

“When they first announced it (upgrade) I was so excited for the fans,” he said. “Some tracks have seen big swings, ups and downs, in attendance. Phoenix always has such a great turnout. It is a source of pride and cool to have a premier track.”

READ MORE: 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.