Last year we ranked Michael McDowell 30th. This year, he is about the same because he did almost exactly what was expected from a fantasy standpoint.
We knew that McDowell would be good on the aero-restricted superspeedways and he rewarded that confidence with a pair of fifth-place finishes in the Daytona 500 and at Talladega in the spring. His next best finish was a 12th on the Charlotte Roval followed by a 13th at Talladega and a 16th at the Glen.
The reason that is so important is because it can be difficult to find the perfect dark horse on wild card tracks. On the plate and road courses, he was batting .714 in terms of strong runs missing only at Sonoma when he lost a lap and in Talladega 1 when he crashed.
Success among the drivers handicapped outside the top 25 can be found in the number of times they finish in the front half of the pack and McDowell did so in more than a quarter of his races.
McDowell was fantasy relevant on several unrestricted, intermediate speedways as well. One of his five top-15s came in the March Texas race; he finished 15th – and while that race had some significant attrition, McDowell also started 15th in the event and managed to stay on the lead lap. That is no small feat on a similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track with the level of competition.
Perhaps the greatest sign of improvement for this team was seen in their qualification attempts. McDowell started in the top 10 at Kansas, Chicagoland, and Las Vegas – three of the 1.5-milers. While he fell back in every one of those races, he performed reasonably well with results of 20th to 24th. His other top-10 start came at Martinsville in the fall and he finished 23rd.
In 2020, McDowell will be the consistent force at Front Row Motorsports. David Ragan has decided to retire and Matt Tifft will be forced to sit out the season as he attends to some health issues. That could either hurt of help this driver because it creates uncertainty on one hand and makes him the senior driver on the other.
Three Best Tracks
Charlotte Roval (15.0 in 2 attempts)
Daytona (23.7 in 20)
Sonoma (26.0 in 8)
Three Worst Tracks
Atlanta (36.5 in 11)
Auto Club (35.8 in 10)
Chicagoland (35.6 in 10)
Victories: None (Best finish = fifth, Daytona 500 and Talladega 2)
Top-fives: 2 (.055)
Top-10s: 2 (.055)
Top-15s: 5 (.138)
2019 Finishes at or above rank = 27 (75.0%)