Organization to utilize Team Penske alliance in 2015 Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Leavine Family Racing team owner Bob Leavine recalls when he signed his driver Michael McDowell with a fondness that stems from respect on and off the track. "We interviewed four drivers and I had seen Michael in the garage,” Levine said during Charlotte Media Tour on Wednesday. “The time he took with fans was in line with our family values, the way he treated people. “A good driver, and he wasn't driving the best cars in the world. I knew that we didn't have many, but what we were putting on the track was good. So I just thought that it would be a good fit from what we were trying to accomplish." Fast forward a year and the small family-owned Sprint Cup Series team is headed in a direction that both the driver and team are excited about. McDowell , 29, is expected to run a minimum of 20 Sprint Cup Series races in 2015, trumping last year’s number. Last season, he qualified for all but three Cup events that he attempted, nabbing notable finishes at Daytona (seventh) and Bristol (18th), a victory that McDowell said he would have celebrated by popping champagne at his hauler if any had been available. “The thing about that (Bristol) race for us is we ran where we finished most of the day,” McDowell said with a smile. “For a small Sprint Cup team to be in the teens and the low 20s, that’s a great day for us. “For us, to run where we’ve run all night and to finish it off was definitely a confidence builder and momentum for us.” The No. 95 driver appears to be sticking with the big boys for now, despite his strong finishes in the few races run with XFINITY Series in 2014. “I love running in the XFINITY Series. I’ve had a lot of great runs in the last few years,” McDowell said. “… I hope that I’ll have a few opportunities again to run some races, but there’s nothing permanent on the schedule right now. But having a part-time schedule in the Sprint Cup Series gives me a little bit of flexibility. “Now with a tighter alliance with Team Penske and a tighter alliance with Ford, it’s eliminated some of the opportunities with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota and those things.” This season marks the second season of the organization’s technical alliance with Team Penske , a partnership that Leavine thinks will aid the 14-person team on improving from last season. “It’s just a different mindset,” Leavine said. “… Roger (Penske) wasn’t willing to accept anything less than perfect. And that’s contagious." The fever seems to have spread to the organization's shop in Concord, North Carolina, as Leavine describes the team’s readiness to improve and be even more competitive next season. And that’s just what McDowell plans to do. “We want to be in the mix and we want to be in the conversation and we feel like at the end of the year last year, we were getting to that point,” McDowell said. “But we’d just like to be able to do that more consistently. And that’s the focus this year. "You can’t always hit home runs, but if we could hit doubles every game and eventually we’re going to get a few home runs in there and that’s really what we’re focused on.” FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Opportunity to run in the No. 22 comes within heated owner race RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today SPARTA, Ky. -- The last time Michael McDowell was in a NASCAR Nationwide Series ride, he was driving the No. 20 for Joe Gibbs Racing at Iowa Speedway earlier this season. He battled Brad Keselowski in the No. 22 Team Penske ride throughout the final laps, settling for second while Keselowski celebrated in Victory Lane. This weekend at Kentucky Speedway , McDowell will be in that No. 22 for the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 as he continues to hunt down his first Nationwide victory. Aside from his own aspirations of a win, McDowell's job is also to keep owner Roger Penske atop the owner standings -- the weight of which won't keep the driver down. "I've been in these sort of high-pressure situations in the past with Joe Gibbs Racing going in over the years," McDowell said. "There's a lot at stake, I realize that, and obviously this is a car that's won four races already this year and runs up front every week. And so the pressure for me is just, I really just take every week the same, I go out there and do the best I can and try to get the most out of the race car that I can, and hopefully the results will come from that." With two top-10 finishes in two Nationwide Series starts this season, McDowell has had a welcome respite from finishing outside of the top 20 as so often happens in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ride. McDowell has competed in 13 races in the top national series and earned only two top-20s. In three races, his No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Ford did not qualify. Racing for a small team has presented its challenges, but competing for top teams in Nationwide has kept them from getting to the driver. "(I've) sort of struggled and had to do a lot of things that you wouldn't think would be ideal in a career: ... not have well-funded programs in both the Nationwide and Cup sides," McDowell said. "And it just made me realize, OK, this is why I stuck in it, and this is why I continue to do what I'm doing -- is for an opportunity like this to drive a great race car for a great organization and hopefully get a shot at Victory Lane, you know, it makes it all worth it for sure." His opportunities with Penske and Gibbs have been beneficial to the small, single-car organization where McDowell spends most of his time. While Leavine Family Racing continues to battle limited funds and a smaller staff than teams like Penske, who provides its equipment, having the chance to be a part of a winning team brings LFR closer to doing so itself. "The opportunities that I've had over the last three or four years in the Nationwide Series, I feel like is what's really kept me in this sport, because I got great opportunities to hop in and get top-fives and a couple of runner-up finishes, and it kind of makes you relative in this sport," McDowell said. "But more than anything for me was, it wasn't so much a confidence boost as it was, 'OK, this is what it needs to feel like, this is where we have to get,' and it allowed me to go back to my Cup programs a little more focused on, 'OK, here's the areas we do well, here's the areas where they do it better.' And that's really helped me be able to bring more to the Cup program." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Hornish will drive the No. 54 for JGR, McDowell the No. 22 for Penske
Michael McDowell says his second place finish was bittersweet because he was so close to a win, while Sam Hornish Jr. was happy with his car, but disappointed with the results.
Michael McDowell has engine trouble early on lap four of the Johnsonville Sausage 200 Presented by Menards at Road America.
It's a family affair as Michael McDowell expresses how humbling it is for him to win the inaugural pole for the Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Michael McDowell doesn't give Marcos Ambrose an inch and sends him spinning into the wall.
Shortly after Michael McDowell brings out the caution in practice after hitting the wall, Ryan Newman gets loose in a mock qualifying run and puts it in the fence.
Michael McDowell makes a great save after being in a tight spot off Turn 2.
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. -- Joe Gibbs Racing announced Monday that Michael McDowell will join their team of drivers for the 2011 Nationwide Series season. McDowell is currently slated to drive in both Nationwide Series races at Iowa in the No. 18 Toyota with the potential to add additional races to his schedule for JGR. "Anytime you have the opportunity to work with someone with the talent and character of Michael you are excited," JGR president J.D. Gibbs said. "We are blessed with a great group of drivers across all three of our entries in the Nationwide Series next season." Joe Gibbs Racing has experienced tremendous success the past three seasons in the Nationwide Series. Last season the No. 18 team captured the Nationwide Series owner's championship behind Kyle Busch's record 13 victories despite driving in only 29 events. In 2009 the No. 18 team captured the combined driver's and owner's titles as Busch drove the full season. Meanwhile, JGR's No. 20 team earned the organization's first Nationwide Series owner's championship in 2008. In all, JGR has 49 victories in the Nationwide Series the past three seasons. "These JGR race teams have an incredible performance history" McDowell said. "This is a great opportunity and I am honored to represent Pizza Ranch in their home state of Iowa and drive the No. 18. I appreciate the confidence Pizza Ranch and JGR have in me and plan to make the best of it. " This will mark McDowell's fifth year racing in the Nationwide Series after making his debut with three races during the 2007 season. He added two more races in 2008 and competed on a full-time basis in 2009, earning five top-10 and 18 top-20 finishes while starting 34 of the season's 35 races. Last season he competed in 33 of the 35 races with one top-10 and 10 top-20 finishes. McDowell also competes in the Sprint Cup Series where he has made 52 career starts in the past three seasons. McDowell , 26, and his wife, Jami, live in Huntersville, N.C., with their two-year-old son, Trace.