Prior to the final race weekend of 2016, Circle Sport Leavine Family Racing decided to put Ty Dillon in the team’s primary ride, moving Michael McDowell to the team’s second car, the No. 59 Chevrolet.
It marked the second time in 2016 that McDowell would be piloting the No. 59 car. The last time he did, in February’s Daytona 500 he wound up collecting a 15th-place finish.
The season-ending race at Homestead was even better. Starting 26th, McDowell drove to 20th as soon as the green flag dropped. He spend much of the day hovering around the top 15 before a late surge gave him a career-best 10th-place finish on a 1.5-mile race track.
“We had a good car,” McDowell told Frontstretch. “We were in the top 16 to top 20 all day. Obviously, a lot of cars there had some damage and so did we, but we got a good restart and plugged away.”
With 10 laps to go in the season finale, Joey Logano made a move under Carl Edwards, turning him into the inside wall. The contact triggered a nine-car pileup, ending Edwards’ shot at a title but also putting Dillon in harm’s way.
Dillon came home 33rd, but before the melee the No. 95 car was in 13th, closing in on the top 10. Being that it was only the second time the organization had two cars in a race, McDowell is proud of the team’s effort.
“We’ve come a long way and we’ve worked really hard,” he said. “Our alliance with Richard Childress Racing has really helped that. We’re fighting.”
McDowell missed five races this season, replaced by Dillon, but it marked the first time in his career in which he had two top-10 finishes in the same season. At Daytona in July, the No. 95 crossed the finish line 10th after starting 37th.
During his effort on Sunday evening at Homestead, McDowell upset Austin Dillon on the final restart, costing the No. 3 car valuable spots, but for the No. 59 car, it was about finishing the season strong.
“He [Austin Dillon] was upset that I ran tight on his door through Turn 1,” he claimed. “But it’s a green-white-checkered and it’s a top 10 for me. This is a pretty big deal.”
After a career year, McDowell confirmed to Frontstretch that he will be back in the No. 95 car full-time in 2017, which would mark the first time in his career that he competed a full season.
“The plan next year for us is to run full-time in the No. 95 and I’ll be in it in all the races,” he said. “If a second car came along, it would be only an opportunity here and there. Really, we’re just focused on getting the one car funded and sured-up enough that we can keep it at the level that we are at.”