The Finish: Sunday afternoon, Michael McDowell made the most of his first start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2011 and his first start in the No. 18 Pizza Ranch Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, leading laps and coming home with a strong seventh-place finish in the Iowa John Deere Dealers 250 at Iowa Speedway.
The Race Recap: Michael and the No. 18 team started the day in the second-position after qualifying was rained out and the lineup set by owner’s points. After running in second to start the event, McDowell passed JGR teammate Drew Herring to grab the lead on lap 38. A strong stop by the No. 18 JGR team allowed Michael to hold onto the top spot following the lap 50 competition caution, a lead which he held until lap 57. However, the rest of the afternoon Michael and the team fought a tremendously loose racecar. Crew Chief Jason Ratcliff made a number of adjustments through the event to try and keep the No. 18 Pizza Ranch Toyota as competitive as he could near the front of the field. A late-race caution during a round of green flag pit stops caught the Michael a lap down, forcing the team to have to take the wave around rather than come in and pit to make final adjustments for the race’s final 40 laps. McDowell was able to overcome the loose condition and an overheating problem to pick up a number of positions in the race’s final laps, bringing the No. 18 Pizza Ranch Toyota home seventh. The finish allowed the No. 18 to hold onto its second-place standing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Owner’s Championship. The team trails the No. 20 car by just 24 points.
Michael’s Quotes: “It was a good day for the Pizza Ranch Toyota. We led laps and brought the car home in one piece. That was one of the biggest things I wanted to get out of today; to log laps, to be competitive and to stay out of trouble. I don’t think we ended up where we wanted to, but that is the way things go sometimes. We had a car that could have finished a couple of spots higher than where we finished. It was a great first weekend with the No. 18 team, Jason (Ratcliff) and all of the guys. They worked hard this weekend with the position we were put in with little track time because of all of the rain.
“Our car wasn’t very good on restarts and on the short runs because we were just too loose. We were pretty good on the long run and we showed that during those couple of green-flag runs we had. The guys were making adjustments and I think, had we not got caught a lap down during those green flag stops and forced to take the wave around, we could have come in and made one more adjustment and been able to get a few more spots there at the end. I really think we could have gotten a top-five with just a little more adjusting. But it was a good start for my relationship with Joe Gibbs Racing and all of the guys on the No. 18.
“I’m very thankful to Joe Gibbs Racing and Pizza Ranch for giving me this opportunity. We came in with high expectations and we didn’t quite live up to them, but we have a good baseline now. After a weekend of working together, Jason knows more what I want out of a car and I know how to better communicate with Jason and get him the information he needs to make the car better. I’m looking forward to being back in the car for a few more races.”
What’s Next: The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota will be back in action this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway with Kyle Busch behind the wheel in the Top Gear 300.