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Ford Sweeps Top-Three Qualifying Spots Behind McDowell’s Pole

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
NASCAR Cup Series
Enjoy Illinois 300 Qualifying | Saturday, June 1, 2024

Ford Performance Results:
1st – Michael McDowell
2nd – Austin Cindric
3rd – Ryan Blaney
7th – Brad Keselowski
12th – Joey Logano
21st – Justin Haley
23rd – Chase Briscoe
27th – Noah Gragson
29th – Josh Berry
30th – Harrison Burton
32nd – Ryan Preece
34th – Cody Ware
35th – Todd Gilliland

MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 Siteman Cancer Center Ford Mustang Dark Horse

“I had a bit of a moment there in Turn 3 and got a little loose and had to catch it but luckily I was able to recover quickly and get back in the throttle. I am so proud of everybody at Front Row Motorsports. I know this is our third pole of the year, but to do it at a short track, a flat track, not a superspeedway, I am really proud of everybody. We have Siteman Cancer Center on the car this weekend, the first time for them. I am excited to start from the pole tomorrow. I am really proud of everybody. It is a team effort here.”

HOW IMPORTANT IT THIS FOR YOU GUYS TO HAVE THE NUMBER ONE PIT SPOT TOMORROW? “It is huge here. They widened pit road here a few feet but we have seen it where it is just really critical to get off pit road here. It is tight, especially when these guys do two tires or four tires. Having that first stall and being able to launch from your box and have a clean shot at it will be a big deal tomorrow. But right now we are going to celebrate today. We will worry about tomorrow, tomorrow morning. It is a great effort by everyone and all of our partners. We have great partners and this is a great race team. Big news for Front Row getting a third charter this week. There is a lot of momentum happening. We need a win. We need a win to get into the playoffs and we are going to fight hard for it.”

AUSTIN CINDRIC, No. 2 Freightliner Ford Mustang Dark Horse

“I got really good exits which made watching that really frustrating because you know they are all going to pass you on entry. It was just whether or not you got enough. The 34 guys did a great job. Michael (McDowell) had two really great laps. I felt like I got it all on our end after leaving a little bit on the table the first round. The Freightliner Ford Mustang is fast. It is great to be on the front row for tomorrow.”

RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Menards Ford Mustang Dark Horse

“It is a good day for Ford taking the top three spots. We had a lot of speed in those Mustangs today. I was happy with the speed in our car throughout the day and in qualifying. It is a pretty good day. I wish we would have been closer to the pole, but overall a very solid day and I feel good about being able to put together a good day tomorrow as wel.”

MICHAEL MCDOWELL POLE WINNING PRESS CONFERENCE

CONGRATULATIONS ON WINNING THE POLE. OBVIOUSLY A GOOD LAP TODAY: “Yeah, it was great. I’m so thankful that we got practice and qualifying in. When we looked last night and this morning, we were like, ah, not sure if this is going to happen. But really, this practice went really smooth. We unloaded pretty close. Had to work a little bit on the balance, but with this type of practice and qualifying, you just have to be close when you unload. And Travis Peterson and Griff and all the guys did a great job of bringing us a fast Ford Mustang again. The second round isn’t new to us this year but I feel like we’ve got into the second round several times and then not made that next jump in that next round where we might be third, fourth or fifth that first round and then end up eighth, ninth or tenth in that second round so I’m just thankful that we were able to you know make all the right adjustments and give ourselves a great shot at getting the pole. I mean obviously we had tremendous speed and so that was a lot of fun. There’s a couple Ford Mustangs up front so that’s good and tomorrow with track position and pit stall selection and all the things that are super important here. This is a great start of the weekend for us. We just have to maximize the opportunity. We got to capitalize and we have to execute. We need to win desperately to get into the playoffs. We know that and we know that the next four to five weeks are great opportunities for us. We’re kicking it off right.”

YOU AND CINDRIC WERE THE ONLY TWO GUYS TO GO TO THIRD GEAR IN THE LAST TWO CORNERS. HOW DID YOU FIGURE THAT OUT? “Oh, I don’t want to answer that. A study in preparation and execution. Well, I’ll run you through it okay, because everybody’s gonna look anyway. So last year we were third or fourth in practice. Had a really fast car. We were on the 10 lap average. Everything was really good, top-five car. I thought with the speed that you’d pick up in qualifying and the extra grip that you had that extra downshift would probably overslow it and would hurt you. My plan last year was to run run fourth in three and four, and I did. I lost a tenth and a half in that corner compared to all the guys that downshifted and so studying that, looking at it and highlighting it I just knew that that’s what I needed to do. Then the flip side of it the only one that made the second round before I went out that downshifts was Austin Cindric and everybody else ran fourth in turn three and so then you’re scratching your head as you’re sitting in the car. All that studying and all that planning, what do you do? The thing that I’ve learned with this car and maybe it’s with experience but I feel like in particular with this car when it comes to qualifying you just have to execute your plan, and I planned all week to do that and I’m just going to execute my plan right, wrong, or indifferent. So I just committed to it and fortunately we’re on the right side of it because it could easily have gone the other way. That’s what’s tough about this car is you’re really splitting hairs trying to find that extra tenth, right? And that’s what the difference was. It was a tenth between had I downshifted last year versus not and you don’t want to leave anything on the table and so just really had a plan, executed the plan and it turned out to be the right one.”

AND SECOND JUST HOW BIG A SOURCE OF PRIDE IS IT TO DO THIS ON A 1.25 MILE QUIRKY SPEEDWAY RATHER THAN THE SUPER SPEEDWAY? “Yeah, Talladega and Atlanta were special. They are. Getting the pole there was special because it always is every weekend such a team effort. We all know that you can’t go fast without fast race cars, but in particular at Talladega in Atlanta, the driver’s not a big part of whether or not you’re going to qualify well. You still have to execute. You still have to get through the gears. And so I don’t want to take anything away from, from that standpoint but it really is a matter of how fast of a race car your team brought you right? It’s still the same today it really is like even today the poll today is because I had a really fast race car. I had more pressure to execute my part at a flat track like this where you’re up shifting twice, down shifting twice each corner, heavy brake zones, all those things. So it’s more rewarding from that standpoint to go out there and execute and do it. And the biggest thing is over the years I haven’t had a lot of opportunities at this to qualify on the pole or have a shot at the front row and things like that. As crazy as this sounds, I just had to remember to 15 years ago, 16 years ago when I sat on like 10 ARCA poles, and I just didn’t overthink it. I just went out there and did my deal. If your car’s fast enough, you get the pole, right? And so I just went into that second round thinking like that. Like, you don’t have to do anything special. You don’t have to overthink it. You just have to go execute what you know you have to do and not overdo it. So I’m glad it worked out because there have been times this year where I felt like we’ve had shots at the pole, maybe not quite as fast as we were today, but third, fourth place car, and like I said we ended up sixth or seventh and you kind of leave bummed. Today we did everything right and the car was really close from the time we unloaded and made all the right adjustments and so I’m proud of the total team effort that we have and you know there are a lot of good things that are happening at Front Row right now and you know with the news this week of expanding to three charters and the growth that we’re seeing and the performance that we’re seeing is awesome. To back that up this week with a poll on a legit hard racetrack to go get a poll I feel like is validating for everything that they’re doing.”

HOW PROUD ARE YOU IN YOUR ABILITY AND YOUR TEAM’S ABILITY TO CONTINUE TO PERFORM AT THIS HIGH LEVEL CONSIDERING YOUR STATUS FOR NEXT YEAR AND THE WHOLE LAME-DUCK THING? “Yeah, I mean obviously we’re not a lame duck. I don’t really know where the terminology originates from. You probably could tell me because you’re pretty good with words. You’re a wordsmith I feel like. But I hate lame duck. It’s so lame. It’s a lame term. I am as motivated as I’ve ever been to make sure that we win and make the playoffs. And for so many reasons, right? But more than ever, because I am making a change and I want to finish what we started and I want to do what I know we can do. We have a group of people right now that we can win races and I just have to do my part. To me, it’s more of not letting those guys down. Also to me, it’s Bob Jenkins has taken me from a guy that was running 30th every weekend to winning the Daytona 500 and winning Indianapolis and sitting on three poles this year. I’m going to give them everything I have because that’s what you do when somebody has changed your life, right? And so it’s the only way that I know that we can do it.”

IS THERE ANY ANIMOSITY AT ALL KNOWING THAT YOU’RE KIND OF GETTING TRADED IN FOR A NEW MODEL? I KNOW YOU’RE GOING TO GIVE 110% BECAUSE YOU’RE A RACER AND YOU DON’T KNOW ANY DIFFERENT THAN THAT. BUT I ASKED JERRY WHAT THE OPTIONS ARE AND HE SAID, WELL, I WANT TO FIND SOMEBODY LIKE MICHAEL MCDOWELL, THAT I CAN MOLD INTO MICHAEL MCDOWELL. AND IT’S LIKE, WELL, IF YOU HAVE THE ORIGINAL, WHY WOULD YOU SCREW AROUND WITH THAT? I’M JUST KIND OF CURIOUS, YOU KNOW, DOES IT CHAP YOU A LITTLE BIT THAT YOU JUST COULDN’T FINISH OUT YOUR CAREER THERE? “That’s a great question. It’s an honest question and I appreciate it. I think that the first week or two as I was navigating what was in front of us, maybe a little bit, but not now. And the reason not now is because it always works out. I know in my heart what I was supposed to do. I think Bob knew in his heart what he was supposed to do, even though it doesn’t always make sense. It doesn’t always make sense, but there are so many moving parts behind the scenes that not everybody knows. I don’t mean like gossip, that’s not what I mean, but probably the best thing for Front Row Motorsports and for Bob Jenkins is for me not to be in that 34 car, as crazy as that sounds. Because of what it’s going to allow him to do and what it’s going to allow him to build his race team into. And yes, I’m disappointed about that sometimes a little bit, but I also know for me that I have a great opportunity in front of me and I have a long future in front of me and obviously I’m not done yet, right? So I feel great about my decision and I think Bob feels good about his decision as well and there’s no animosity. There are no hurt feelings. Sometimes it’s just the way it works out and I feel that this is how it’s supposed to work out.”

TO WIN TOMORROW, WHAT’S IT GOING TO TAKE AND WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT THIS TRACK? “Well, it’s going to take track position, which we start out with and we have, and so we got to execute that. I’ve seen it be really powerful here before. In 2022 I believe, we stayed out and took the lead and led like 50 or 60m I don’t know but a decent amount of laps. That was really eye opening of like, hey, we just got to get out in front and we’re going to be okay. And last year we had a top 10 car here as well. I’m not super shocked by our speed. I think it was exceptional today in qualifying for sure. Tomorrow it’s just about executing that initial start and pit stops. There are so many variables. There are so many things that happen. When you’re the leader or if you are still leading different strategies that people take. Two tires here is an option and staying out and different things have been an option here. So you’re going to have to be versatile. You’re going to have to be able to keep the lead and then if you do lose track position because of altering strategies you have to be able to get through traffic. So much happens on a race day. I always say this and this is not just because I’m sitting here right now but Saturday is a race of its own and today we won the race and tomorrow we’ll focus on winning that race but today we executed well and did everything we needed to do and if we do that tomorrow we’ll have a shot at winning the race. But to win a Cup race you have to be perfect and we’ve seen it. It’s tough, right? You have past champions that haven’t won a race in a long time. We’ve seen really, really good guys and really good teams that have the speed and are so close, but everything has to go perfectly. So we know what we have to do. We’ve been in this spot before as far as needing to win to get into playoffs and having speed. We have to rise to the occasion. I think we will.”

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE TO WIN TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS AS FAR OUT AS YOU ARE? “I think I do. If we run like this every weekend and can score 20 stage points each week, then no, but the way that it looks right now I think that we have to win. And honestly, that’s the approach. That’s always been the approach for us. Even last year when we were close to pointing our way in, which we would have pointed our way in, even without the win, we knew that we were going to Sonoma, and we were going to Indy, and we were going to Chicago Road Course, and we were going to those places to win the race and our strategy was to win the race. It’ll be the same this time. We’re not trying to score points to point our way into the playoffs. If we happen to do that because we are that fast and we are executing that well, then great but I’m not counting on that. I’m counting on going and winning in the next two or three weeks and not having to worry about it.”

ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT LARSON HASN’T GOTTEN A WAIVER YET? DO YOU HAVE ANY OPINION ON WHETHER HE SHOULD GET A WAIVER FOR NOT MAKING IT TO THE START? “I don’t see the other side of this point at all. I think if it was me and I did it and I think that’s a different situation and I hate to say it like that, but Kyle Larson is going to win five or six or seven races this year. To sit here and say that he’s not going to get a waiver because he tried to do the double and brought a tremendous amount of eyeballs on our sport and a tremendous amount of eyeballs on IndyCar and just helped motorsports all together is crazy. So I know that there’s arguments to that, but I mean, come on, we’re talking about the best driver that’s ever sat in a stock car and we’re not going to give him a pass? That’s crazy.”

HOW DID YOUR CAR HANDLE IN TRAFFIC DURING PRACTICE? I KNOW CONDITIONS WILL BE DIFFERENT TOMORROW FOR THE RACE, BUT IT IS SUCH A CRITICAL THING, TRACK POSITION IN THIS RACE. “One of the things that was fun about today’s practice was it wasn’t split, right? All of us out there at once, so like it or not, you were going to be in traffic. There was no clean racetrack, which kind of reminded me of the old days of happy hour, right? You’d roll out for happy hour and there’d be 43 of you and you’d be nose to the tail and you’d roll out and give yourself two or three car lengths gap and hammer down. We didn’t run a whole lot in clean air. I was always catching somebody or attempting to catch somebody or passing somebody. I think that I got a good feel for what we need for tomorrow. But when it’s 8 a.m. or whenever we rolled out, right, 8:30, it’s cool, overcast, slightly misty, that’s not going to be tomorrow. I really separate the two days. Today’s all about one lap or two laps. It’s about qualifying and tomorrow we know what we need to do. We’ve raced here before, we have a good notebook, but practice is not an indication of what you’re gonna have tomorrow. It’s just not. We just have to make the right adjustments overnight, knowing that it’s going to be warmer and sunnier. The track’s gonna lose a tremendous amount of grip compared to what we had and it’s gonna take a lot of rubber and you’re gonna move around and you’re gonna be up in that third lane on both ends. You gotta have a good notebook that you can lean into. And like I said, I feel good about that just based on the fact that we had a top 10 car here last year.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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