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February 14, 2024

Michael McDowell

Daytona Beach, Florida

Press Conference

An Interview with:

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Michael McDowell, driver of the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford. We will go ahead and take questions.

Q. We know you've had race speed, but was the qualifying pace a surprise to you at all? Did this surprise you at all?

MICHAEL McDOWELL: Yes, it did surprise me. If you asked my crew chief, Travis Peterson, he wouldn't have been surprised. We were actually joking a lot today because we put a lot of emphasis into having as much speed as we could build into our Daytona 500 car down here.

We always talk about it like, Oh, yeah, we'll see where we stack up. Usually we'll even do a little whiteboard pick of where we think we're going to qualify. Superspeedway qualifying typically hasn't been a strength for us. We haven't worried too much about it because our cars always race really well.

But Travis today, he was like, This is everything I have. If we don't qualify well today, I am done with superspeedway racing qualifying. I'm not putting any more effort into it anymore.

Just shows you the level of intensity that everybody at Front Row put into tonight, to having as much speed as we can, almost like we wanted to prove to ourselves if we really put our mind to it, can we do it.

Obviously these Mustangs are fast. To lock out the front row with two Ford Mustangs is great. Everybody at Roush Yates Engines shop, and all the things that it takes to make race cars go fast. But when it comes to the details the guys did at the shop, they did a good job.

Cool moment. Cool for them to have that moment. Stinks that Joey beat us for the pole. But I'm super proud of the effort. It's a cool experience for us to be in a spot that we're not typically in.

Q. You proved a couple years ago you can win this race from anywhere. Other than the cool part of being on the front row Sunday when you come down to green, how much does this really do for your race, if anything at all?

MICHAEL McDOWELL: Well, it does matter for sure. There's so much that can happen in a 500-mile race. We all know that. But we've also seen with this Next Gen car that track position is important, and it's not always easy to get. It's not easy to go from the back to the front.

A couple guys have done it successfully. But it's very tough to move from the back to the front just because the pack doesn't build, the draft doesn't build like it did with the older car. Also guys with different strategies of saving fuel, pitting with your manufacturers, all that becomes very complicated when you're trying to come through the pack.

Being up front and trying to control your own destiny is important for this race, for all of it, but it's not the end-all, be-all. We all know that, right? You can have maybe one or two little blemishes throughout the 500 and still be okay, it's just harder now than it used to be.

Q. That would have been your first pole until Joey beat you at the last second.

MICHAEL McDOWELL: I know. What a turd.

Q. How do you balance being disappointed but also the relief being locked in the front row, how that makes tomorrow easier?

MICHAEL McDOWELL: Yeah, so I am thrilled for the front row. It would have been more fun to have the pole and get my first career pole in the Cup Series. But honestly, it's such a cool accomplishment for our team that it doesn't feel that disappointing, right, to not get the pole.

The other side of it, too, which I didn't realize, I should have paid more attention, but they're like, Oh, you got to go to Victory Lane. Victory Lane, what do you mean? Victory Lane. They bring the front row in there? You even get a trophy, right? That's pretty cool because normally in our sport it's only the winner that gets a trophy, right? It was neat to see that.

Makes it sting a little less, right? At least you got something to show for it.

Like I said, I'm not disappointed. It would have been special and a little bit cooler, but I'm very proud of everybody at Front Row Motorsports, what they were able to do, how fast our car was.

Q. Going into the Duel tomorrow, you have the spot locked...

MICHAEL McDOWELL: I have no idea what to do.

Q. Is there a balance between conserving the car but at the same time being able to race?

MICHAEL McDOWELL: I'm not sure yet.

Q. And also go for the 10 points available.

MICHAEL McDOWELL: Yeah, so I don't know. Honestly, I'm driving the car, right? It's going to be a group decision. We'll talk about it tonight and tomorrow with my crew chief and competition director, Seth Barbour, Jerry Freeze, my owner, Bob Jenkins, get a feel for what they're thinking. I don't want to tell you one way or another because I really don't know.

My gut is go try to win a trophy and get 10 points if you can. And we got a fast race car, so why not go for it and do that? But there are some complications, right, if you go out there and tear it up, the last thing we need to do is give up a front row spot and have to go to a backup.

Sometimes can you control that, sometimes you can't. We'll run through all those scenarios tonight of what we think is the best decision. Like I said, I haven't been in this spot before, so I don't want to mislead you on what I think we're going to do.

A lot of it is going to have to do with Travis and I's conversation tonight on how bad is this thing going to drive tomorrow. Obviously he knows a lot of what we had to do to get speed in it. Some of those things we might not be able to undo tomorrow night. It might be a handful, right? We'll have to talk about that. We'll probably have to feel it out a little bit and see how it drives.

But I really don't think -- I think, just like in years past, we didn't do anything so far out of the box that we won't be able to race tomorrow night if we decide to do that, yeah. I hope.

Q. He may tell you to go to the back and push Kaz.

MICHAEL McDOWELL: Is Kaz in my race?

Q. Yes.

MICHAEL McDOWELL: I didn't know that. Yeah, that's definitely a big part of it. That will be a part of it. It will be very important to get that 36 in the race tomorrow night. Anything that we can do to help him do that, we're going to try to do for a lot of reasons.

One is three is better than two when it comes down to needing teammates and working together at the end of these races. Unfortunately had a little mechanical issue on that 36 car, but it's going to have plenty of speed. We just need to make sure that we do everything we can to help him get in. That's another variable that we'll talk about tonight.

I was wondering how that was going to play out. Is Todd in ours, too? If Todd is in there, I'm putting the pressure on Todd. Hey, buddy, it's your turn this time.

Q. No.


Q. I am curious, Kaz had the gearshift issue. Were you concerned you might have the same issue?

MICHAEL McDOWELL: Yes and no. We definitely were like, Uh-oh. One thing that we do is we take pictures of everything that leaves the shop. So very quickly we were able to go through our library and say, No, it's in tight, we're good, without touching the car. There are processes in place, procedures in place, for that.

I think the challenge there was probably sort of not last minute but late in the game deciding to pull the trigger on that 36 and getting everything up and running, taking guys from the shop that aren't typically on the road, all those things. It throws some variables in there.

We felt pretty confident that everything was fine on the 34 and 38.

Q. That guy over there walked in here, what was that roller coaster ride of being there and then Joey ruining that part of it?

MICHAEL McDOWELL: Yeah, it was awesome beating the 5. And when he came across the line, I was like, Oh, we have a real shot at this. When Joey took the green, he was already a half a car length ahead of me on SMT. We were like, Oh, that sucks.

After, you have a second to think about it, it's awesome that Ford was able to sweep the front row, take brand-new race cars to our courses and put them on the front row. I would much rather it be inverted, but that's okay.

Like I said, it's a huge accomplishment for our race team to be on the front row for the Daytona 500. Not disappointed one bit. Feel thankful, glad that we have so much speed down here.

Q. It's been a very long time, very different points in your career, but can you compare a decade ago when you came here and didn't make the race, obviously you won, but now the front row, qualifying, how you look back at that moment?

MICHAEL McDOWELL: Yeah, I was telling some of my guys that are younger on the team, I remember when we came down here and there would be 60 cars. Making the race was like when you made the race, it was -- literally, it made your year. It was such a big deal for the team and financially and all the things that it did. It was such a big deal to make this race.

Yeah, I've had the opportunity, if you want to call it that, to be on both sides of missing them by one spot, getting in on the last lap coming off of turn four, making it, feeling that excitement.

Yeah, it's a special place to come to Daytona. It was so hard to make the races then. But it's different now. It's definitely different. Then we were so happy to make the race that we were like, Sunday, who cares about Sunday, we're in the race. Now it's not like that, right? Now it's like, This is a great accomplishment, but it's all about winning on Sunday.

It's a different mindset.

To answer your question, it's great. It's amazing. I mean, it's been a long journey and it's been a tough one and a lot of years of not so much fun, hoping that one day you would have fast cars and a shot at running well. I know I said that before, but it's happening more consistently where we're having this conversation. That's fun for me.

It's fun to finally get to have that opportunity to be competitive week in and week out and not just at certain places but a lot of places. This is the best time of my career, it really is.

There was definitely plenty of years where it didn't look like I was on that trajectory, so I'm very thankful that things have continued to get better.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Michael. Good luck this weekend.

MICHAEL McDOWELL: Thank you, guys.

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