By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Earlier this week, news came out that Circle Sport Leavine Family Racing had purchased a team charter from Tommy Baldwin Racing for the 2017 season and beyond. Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the good news just kept rolling in for the race team.
For most of the Ford EcoBoost 400, the team had two drivers inside the top-20. Ty Dillon led the way with a car that was hanging inside the top-15, while Michael McDowell looked to have about an 18th-place car.
The race was quite mild for the most part, that is until a lap 258 restart. When the green flag came out, second-place Carl Edwards swung low to block a hard-charging Joey Logano as the field headed toward turn one. Edwards thought he was clear, but Logano was alongside of him. The two made contact and Edwards careened into the wall starting a huge melee that collected numerous cars including Dillon.
With Dillon sidelined, McDowell became the best chance for the team to secure a great finish.
And boy, did the 31-year old deliver. On the final restart he had the advantage of being in the right place at the right time and he managed to keep his nose clean over the final handful of laps and recorded a career-best 10th-place finish. McDowell feels this could carry his team into next season.
“Yeah it’s good momentum. Everybody at Circle Sport Leavine Family Racing we’ve been making great progress. Todd Parrott and all the guys at [CSLFR] gave me a great car today. We were up in the top 16-17. A little attrition there at the end, it got crazy. Great restart that last restart, my lane went and snuck out a top-10 pretty cool,” a smiling McDowell explained.
In the offseason, the team struck a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing which provided increased performance. But it was the acquisition of Parrott — a former Sprint Cup champion — as the Crew Chief that has really paid dividends down the stretch. In the seven races with Parrott on the pit box, McDowell recorded four top-20 finishes.
Parrott will return for ’17, the alliance with RCR will stay in place as well, and McDowell, who split driving duties with Ty Dillon during the year, will be a full-time driver for the team next year.
“Yeah that’s the plan. I’ll be back in the No. 95 car next year full-time. And Ty pretty sure has his deal figured out too. So we have great things happening,” McDowell said.
This ‘little team that could’ may be on the verge of a break out year in 2017.