Michael McDowell is unfortunately known as a start-and-park driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. This weekend, he’s taking off from his Phil Parsons Racing team to drive for one, if not the best teams in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
McDowell is driving the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Saturday afternoon and is already off to a great start. The road course ace is going to lead the field to the green flag for the inaugural Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200. McDowell had a lap time of 84.450 which was barely enough to edge out A.J. Allmendinger for the top spot at Mid-Ohio.
The pole award is the second for McDowell in his NASCAR career. His lone other pole came at Road America in 2011, with the Gibbs team. Ever since getting fired from Michael Waltrip Racing, McDowell has been searching for a home and hasn’t really found one. Besides his full-time Cup Series deal (where he runs roughly five full races per year), McDowell has had a part-time deal with Gibbs in the Nationwide Series since 2011. This year, he only has two shots with the team and this could be his last chance to prove he can win races in NASCAR.
Allmendinger is looking to come off of his win at Road America a few months ago. He’s rumored to take over the No. 47 Sprint Cup Series car for JTG/Daugherty Racing in 2014 and can easily seal the deal with a win this weekend.
Owen Kelly, replacing Kyle Busch this weekend, will start third after making his Sprint Cup Series debut last weekend at Watkins Glen for Phoenix Racing. Kelly should be a contender during the race and can surely lead some laps while trying to get his feet into NASCAR competition. Starting beside Kelly will be hot shot Kyle Larson. Larson hasn’t been the best at the road courses, but with Juan Pablo Montoya not returning to Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing next year, he’s looking to take advantage of the opportunity to impress sponsors.
NASCAR Nationwide Series points leader, Austin Dillon, missed qualifying as he was in Michigan to practice Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet. Jason Bowles, who has a moderate amount of experience in road course racing, qualified the No. 3 car for Richard Childress Racing and put it into the 13th position.
However, since Dillon missed qualifying as well as the drivers meeting, he’ll have to start the race from the rear of the field which will surely give him a disadvantage during the race. Marcos Ambrose will also start at the rear of the field as his car was qualified by Ryan Truex who will be making his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut with Phoenix Racing next weekend at Bristol.
Trevor Bayne also missed qualifying as his car was run by Chris Buescher. This should make these three drivers use different strategies from the rest of the field during the race.
Considering it’s the first time that the series is racing at Mid-Ohio, there’s surely going to be some controversy. Teams are going to use a ton of strategies to get to the front and hopefully come out at the top by the end of the race. The track is expecting approximately 100,000 fans to show up for the race which will surely be the most that the NASCAR Nationwide Series has seen in quite some time and they surely won’t disappoint.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.