In 2017, Leavine Family Racing stepped up with Michael McDowell, who finally competed in his first full-time season with the organization in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. McDowell had one of the most consistent years of his career, ultimately finishing 26th in points.
McDowell had a number of breakthroughs, from his first career top-five finish at Daytona in July to a career best 15 top 20s. McDowell continued to impress with LFR, the team he’s raced with since 2014.
— Michael McDowell (@Mc_Driver) February 15, 2017
For the first time in his career, McDowell found himself locked into the Daytona 500 before Speedweeks began by virtue of a charter from Tommy Baldwin Racing. For the second straight season, McDowell brought home a 15th-place finish starting the season off on a strong note.
Atlanta wasn’t as strong for the team but as NASCAR headed west, McDowell brought home a track-best 18th-place finish at Las Vegas. McDowell would also lead his first laps since Talladega in 2014. Those would be the sole high notes in an early-season slump, as he’d finish outside the top 20 the next seven weeks.
A 13th-place finish at Kansas would begin McDowell’s recovery. He would finish inside the top-20 five out of the seven races from Kansas to Daytona in July. In that period of time, McDowell would earn his season-best qualifying result of 11th at Pocono in June.
McDowell would be in contention for victory at Daytona but a wrong move at the end would cost him. Despite not winning the race, though McDowell would earn his career-best finish of fourth. All of his best career results have come at Daytona, showcasing his restrictor-plate expertise.
During the race, McDowell’s passion was evident, knowing he had a potential winning car. The normally soft-spoken driver had an exchange for words over the radio and Twitter with Chase Elliott.
— Michael McDowell (@Mc_Driver) July 5, 2017
Indianapolis would be another high note for the team as, with just a few laps remaining, McDowell would sit inside the top five and in contention for the victory. On one of the final overtime attempts, though he got hit after Trevor Bayne was turned into him. The wreck severely damaged the No. 95 WRL Contractors Chevrolet SS, sending him back to 18th.
— LeavineFamilyRacing (@LFR95) July 24, 2017
From Indianapolis to Homestead, McDowell would finish inside the top 20 six more times. His best finish came at Watkins Glen where he ran 12th. The end of the season was rather disappointing, though considering what was seen out of the organization in the months leading up to the playoffs.
He’d have to battle adversity after Todd Parrott, his crew chief since Homestead in 2016, was relieved of his duties in October. Jon Leonard was on the box for McDowell’s final five races of the season, he earned five straight finishes of 24th or better.
Statement from Leavine Family Racing: pic.twitter.com/711yZdu0Uy
— LeavineFamilyRacing (@LFR95) October 16, 2017
Those final five races of the season would also be his final with Leavine Family Racing. A string of five seasons together will come to an end in 2018 as it was announced that Kasey Kahne would take over the No. 95. As for McDowell, he’ll wind up with Front Row Motorsports, a team he competed with at Watkins Glen in 2013.
With only two DNF’s, McDowell completed 98.1% of the laps this season, the highest percentage of his career. He also completed a career-high 10,446 laps. Those statistics definitely leave McDowell with a smile, especially in his first full-time season with LFR.
Now, the focus turns to Kahne, a veteran who never lived up to his potential with Hendrick Motorsports. Can LFR take a step forward moving from the underdog in McDowell to this proven winner?