Young McDowell Faces Challenging Debut At Martinsville Speedway MARTINSVILLE, VA (March 21, 2008) -- It's been a busy week for Michael McDowell. He's been jumping all around the Southeast, doing a media event here, a test session there and phone...
Young McDowell Faces Challenging Debut At Martinsville Speedway
MARTINSVILLE, VA (March 21, 2008) -- It's been a busy week for Michael McDowell. He's been jumping all around the Southeast, doing a media event here, a test session there and phone calls everywhere.
It's probably a good thing it's been a hectic week for the young driver from Arizona. It kept his mind off the week he's got in front of him.
The 24-year-old McDowell will be making his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Martinsville Speedway in the Goody's Cool Orange 500 on March 30. And to add to the pressure, McDowell is essentially replacing 1999 Sprint Cup champion Dale Jarrett.
McDowell has spent a lot of time the past few months explaining that he will be driving the 00 Aaron's Toyota beginning with Martinsville and David Reutimann will move to the No. 44 UPS Toyota. "I'm gonna hop into the double zero and David into the 44," he has said many times in interviews. But he knows he is filling the void at Michael Waltrip Racing left by Jarrett's retirement from the UPS Toyota.
"I don't think anybody can take Dale Jarrett's place and I'm definitely not going to attach my name to that," McDowell said recently. "I'm excited about getting this chance. It's a great opportunity. It's just a good feeling knowing you have got a ride and knowing you're going to be racing in the Sprint Cup Series is unbelievable."
Waltrip ran across McDowell almost by accident. He was following the progress of a couple of other developmental drivers on the same ARCA ReMax Series team as McDowell. He was so impressed he wound up not just signing McDowell, but putting him in a Sprint Cup car, replacing the ultra-successful Jarrett.
It was hard not to be impressed by McDowell the past couple of years. He won four ARCA ReMax Series races in 2007, was second in the season-long point standings, was the circuit's rookie of the year and led more laps than any other driver. He also captured nine pole positions in 2007.
He finished fifth in his first career ARCA ReMax start in 2006 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Although only 24, McDowell had a solid career in sports cars before making the jump to stock cars.
McDowell has seen success on race tracks of all shapes and sizes, but amazingly is relieved that his Sprint Cup Series career will start on Martinsville's difficult half-mile.
"I now it's a long race and one of the toughest races on the calendar," McDowell said of next Sunday's Goody's Cool Orange 500. "But I'm excited about it. It's an awesome place with lots of history. I really enjoy short-track racing. It puts the driver back in the equation a little more than some of the larger tracks. I'm looking forward to that.
"But it's a tough race. There are a lot of laps, a lot of hard laps. To make you debut at Martinsville is tough."
McDowell got a jump start on his Martinsville career when he drove for Darrell Waltrip's team in last fall's Kroger 200 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Martinsville. His goal was to finish the race without incident and get plenty of good seat time. He accomplished most of his goals until he was caught up in a wild wreck with about 15 laps to go.
The big thing McDowell took away from that race last fall was that he really needed to be in good physical condition for a 500-lapper on the tight oval. He's spent lots of long hours since then in the gym.
"I've done a lot of training to make sure I'm in shape for 500 laps," he said.
And he's done a lot of listening to his teammates and car owner while waiting for his first day behind the wheel.
"I'm in the best situation I could be in as a rookie driver because I've had Dale Jarrett and Michael Waltrip to lean on, not only as a team owner, but as a fellow driver. And I've got David Reutimann who just was a rookie, so he knows exactly what I'm going through.
"You can't put words to it. You watch the races. You grow up watching your heroes drive and now you're racing with them. I can't put words to what that feels like until Martinsville. It's gonna be a fun ride. I've got a job to do, I've got to put my helmet on good and try not to let it consume me, but enjoy it at the same time."
Tickets for both the Goody's Cool Orange 500 on Sunday, March 30, and the Kroger 250, on Saturday, March 29, are on sale and can be purchased by calling 1.877.RACE.TIX or online at www.martinsvillespeedway.com. Ticket prices for the Goody's Cool Orange 500 range from $42 to $80.
Tickets for the Kroger 250 are $37 in advance, $42 on race day. Kroger 250 tickets for children ages 6 to 12 are $5.
The Goody's Cool Orange 500 weekend kicks off on March 28 with Carilion Clinic Pole Day with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying.
Martinsville Speedway's ticket office is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.