For the first time in 14 years of racing in the top-tier NASCAR Cup Series, Michael McDowell has legitimate leverage for an upcoming contract negotiation. But don’t rely on him to use it.
McDowell’s star has never shone brighter. On the one hand, the 36-year-old driver won the first victory of his career in the Daytona 500, the biggest motor racing event. But the Harley J. Earl Trophy could cast too much of a shadow over his remaining accomplishments this year for Front Row Motorsports.
In the first 15 races of the year, he finished five of them in eighth place or better, including a sixth place at Homestead-Miami Speedway. His 15.9-place average finish – in the 26th fastest car in the series based on the median lap average standings – is the best of his career and the best in Front Row’s 16-year history, contributing to catapult its open market value to $ 2.48 million. by season in a recent update from MotorsportsAnalytics.com. With no contract stuck for 2022, it looks like his performance deserves a raise or jump to another more established squad; however, that is not his desire.
“I plan to be at Front Row while they get me,” McDowell said. “I like what we do. It’s fun to be a part of something and to build something. I have a lot of freedom at Front Row to be a part of these things … a lot more of the inner work.
The autonomy it enjoys is on par with what elite drivers of large organizations receive; for another program, he would have few opportunities to obtain such a contribution.
Front Row, owned by Bob Jenkins, whose portfolio also includes over 150 Yum! Brands franchises and Morristown Driver’s Services, a provider of transportation logistics, maintain a frugal budget in what is generally a spend-free industry. While NASCAR’s Next Gen car – essentially a kit race car that will debut next year – will eliminate the work staples of big teams such as CNC machine operators, drivetrain specialists, and gear specialists. chassis, Front Row has positioned itself to choose from among the soon to be inundated mechanical talents. the market.
“I am really looking forward to the future with the Next Gen car,” said McDowell. “I think we have the people and we have the team and we have the partners who, if the new car does what we think we can do, we’ll be a competitor at a lot of these racetracks.”
Additionally, McDowell insists he won’t be asking for a base pay hike, despite his free market value, a value that is strictly on track, up 121% from his preseason assessment.
“It’s not part of the conversation,” McDowell said. “I’m not going to see Bob and Jerry (Freeze, team GM) and say ‘Hey look what I’m doing’ because Bob has been spending a lot of his own money for a long time and I’m just glad we have success.
Success, McDowell believes, could improve his ability to pay bonuses, depending on contract incentives and race winnings.
“I think this Next Gen car will even give us more opportunities to drive well and which will generate more sponsorship, which generates more income and more income options for me in this regard. “
This season’s improvement for McDowell and Front Row is currently focused on the 550 horsepower tracks, which make up 47% of the schedule. McDowell ranks sixth in production in Equal Equipment Rating on 550 horsepower tracks, but 36th on 750 horsepower tracks – shorter venues and road courses – which make up the remaining majority of the 36-race season.
McDowell acknowledged that the gap between the divisions is something that needs to change, especially given his road racing origins and the importance of track type in the calendar with seven points-earning events in 2021, against two last year.
“We’re not where we want to be, even with our road course program,” McDowell said. “We have to make gains to be in this top five (on the road courses) and be able to compete with cars (Hendrick Motorsports) and cars (Joe Gibbs Racing).
“The schedule for this year, we knew it was going to be good for us. Road courses and obviously superspeedways (like Daytona and Talladega) have been one of our strengths, you know, for several years. So we knew it was a year of opportunity with as many road courses as there are.
This opportunity could extend into future years as NASCAR explores the possibility of adding street classes to its schedule, a notion McDowell likes and offers more optimism for a continued stay at Front Row.
“I’m really happy to be at Front Row,” McDowell said. “I don’t want to do anything else.”