Here’s a list of drivers who had a slower single-lap speed than Michael McDowell in Saturday morning’s practice session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway: Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin…
That’s what happens when a driver has top-10 speed in practice, which was the case with McDowell. He had the ninth-fastest lap in the first of two Saturday practices, following up on his 15th-place qualifying effort Friday.
What’s going on here? A few things, McDowell said. Ford Performance is giving the team more help, the technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing is paying off and McDowell has chemistry with his new team.
“Where it’s coming from is I feel like I’ve got a group of guys who believe in me and have given me all the tools to do what I think I can do,” McDowell said. “That’s a big part of it.”
McDowell said his teammates — not just Front Row’s David Ragan, but Roush’s Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — are all working well together. But even the No. 34 team didn’t expect to be quite this high up on the speed charts heading into Vegas.
“We were hopeful we could be close to the Roush cars and we could be lingering in those teens to 20,” he said. “Definitely we have a little more speed this weekend than we anticipated to have, but it’s a long year.
“You’ve got to ride it when it’s good, because we know it’s not always going to be like this. It’s a dogfight out here, but it’s fun when you’ve got fast cars.”
Of course, single-lap speed doesn’t mean McDowell is going to have a top-10 finish in the race. Of the 19 drivers who ran at least 10 consecutive laps in the Saturday’s first practice, McDowell was 16th.
But this weekend is feeling good so far for a driver who was not long ago facing the driver unemployment line. McDowell was let go from Leavine Family Racing last fall with no prospects for 2018.
“Performance makes things better, but if you put your happiness in performance, you’re very miserable in this sport because only one guy wins every week,” he said. “I’m thankful to have a job and I’m thankful to be in the garage. There was definitely a time last year when I didn’t think I was going to be here.”