NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, Steve O’Donnell, explains NASCAR’s response to a late-race restart in Richmond and discusses the process of understanding Michael McDowell ’s wreck with a safe truck Saturday night.
With qualifying canceled, the two drivers sidelined for second straight weekend SPARTA, Ky. -- With rain creating havoc for the on-track activity at Kentucky Speedway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage has been kept largely on lockdown for three straight days. The weather deck, however, was stacked even more severely against three unfortunate teams who will miss the race because of a qualifying washout. RELATED: Lineup for Saturday's race Part-time teams Wood Brothers Racing (with driver Ryan Blaney ) and Leavine Family Racing ( Michael McDowell ) were sidelined for the second straight weekend after Coors Light Pole Qualifying was canceled by wet weather. The Curtis Key-owned Motorsports Group with driver Travis Kvapil also headed home after the starting lineup for Saturday night's Quaker State 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM) was determined according to the NASCAR Rule Book. NASCAR officials, faced with a third consecutive day of weather-related challenges, opted to cancel qualifying in an effort to provide teams with more practice time ahead of Saturday night's event, the first for a new, low-downforce rules package. Hopes for that practice were dwindling Friday afternoon because of persistent sprinkles at the 1.5-mile track, but cars finally staged for the session at 4:25 p.m. ET. For longtime team co-owner Eddie Wood, he was left to shrug and say, "the rules are the rules." The Wood Brothers No. 21 had made six previous Sprint Cup Series starts with Blaney at the wheel before the two early exits -- at Daytona International Speedway last weekend, and now here in Kentucky. "A lot of times people get it confused with how it works, but we've gone a long time and not missed a race with weather," Wood said. "Missing races, if you're slow and you miss a race because you're not fast enough, is a bad deal. That just kills your soul, but you can't do anything about the weather. We've been really lucky for the past seven years and haven't missed one, but now the numbers seem to be leveling out. I've always heard that numbers always level out and that's kind of what's going on." Rain has plagued every day at Kentucky since Sprint Cup teams arrived for the expanded race weekend. An extended Wednesday practice and its rescheduled make-up session Thursday were washed out, and Sprint Cup teams only completed 50 minutes of opening practice Friday before a heavy shower throttled the speedway. Both Blaney and McDowell tweeted their exasperation before their team haulers headed for the infield tunnel, just before the start of final practice. Wood said the team planned to enter next weekend's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, hoping that Mother Nature would look kindly on stock-car racing and their team for a change. We can't control the weather, circumstances or road blocks but we have 100% control of our own attitudes. #MakeAchoice — Michael McDowell (@Mc_Driver) July 10, 2015 Mother Nature is playing with my emotions. — Ryan Blaney (@Blaney) July 10, 2015 "We're gonna run next week at Loudon, so we'll head up that way and hope we don't get rained out," Wood said. "I'm gonna stop looking at weather apps, I tell you that. I'm done as far as that is concerned." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Michael McDowell hits the safety truck under caution on the backstretch at Richmond International Raceway.
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
Michael McDowell joined forces with his sponsor, Thrivent Financial, to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Indianapolis and lend a hand to help a local homeowner.
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 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.