Michael McDowell

Alex Bowman’s victory takes Arizona off list of states without Cup winner

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When Alex Bowman is introduced before November’s Cup race at ISM Raceway outside Phoenix, it should be reinforced with some bragging rights.

“Now introducing, the first Arizona native to win a NASCAR Cup Series race: Alex Bowman!”

Yes, Bowman, a native of Tucson, Arizona, won Sunday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway and became the first native driver of the “Grand Canyon State” to win a Cup Series race.

The 26-year-old did what Phoenix natives Michael McDowell and J.J. Yeley weren’t able to before him.

It comes three years after Bowman nearly did so on his own turf. As a substitute driver for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bowman claimed the pole for the 2016 playoff race at ISM Raceway. He then led 194 laps before an incident on a late restart relegated him to a sixth-place finish.

Bowman’s achievement on Sunday makes Arizona the 34th state to produce a Cup Series winner since its inaugural race in 1949.

Which states have produced the most winners in the last 70 years?

Here are the top five according to Racing Insights:

State                    Number of Winning Drivers
North Carolina     28
California             25
Georgia                11
New York             11
Virginia                11

Now with 34 states having produced winners at NASCAR’s premier level, that leaves 16 that haven’t been that fortunate.

Here are those states:

Alaska
Delaware
Hawaii
Idaho
Louisiana (the only state in the Southeast to not produce a winner)
Minnesota
North Dakota
New Hampshire
New Mexico
Oklahoma
Rhode Island
South Dakota
Utah
Vermont
West Virginia
Wyoming

Month before first full Cup season, Michael McDowell giving away only NASCAR trophy

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It took 10 years for Michael McDowell to earn his first NASCAR trophy, but it doesn’t reside in a place of endearment.

“It’s on the floor in my guest room because my wife made me take it down to put up Christmas decorations,” McDowell said this week during the NASCAR Media Tour. “She was tired of it being in the main walkway.”

Last July, McDowell won his first NASCAR race in his 92nd Xfinity Series start, claiming the victory at Road America in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 Chevrolet. He led 24 of the race’s 48 laps and outran teammate Brendan Gaughan.

It remains McDowell’s only win in 309 starts over all three of NASCAR’s national series. But McDowell, who returns to the No. 95 owned by Leavine Family Racing, has no plans to keep the only trophy he’s earned since his first start in an Oct. 20, 2007 Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

When the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series treks to Phoenix International Raceway next week for a test, McDowell will use the opportunity to hand the trophy over his father to “store for a little while.”

“Trophies, to me, have never been significant,” McDowell said. “I’d rather have just the memory of being in Victory Lane and the pictures of the people you’re in Victory Lane with. The only trophy I have is that Road America trophy from my career. I’ve pretty much given away all of them, and I’m planning on giving away that one as well.”

Next month, five months after the biggest accomplishment of his NASCAR career, McDowell will begin his most significant season to date. With Leavine Family Racing in possession of a charter, McDowell is guaranteed to start every Cup Series race for the first time.

Before this year, the most he had started was 33 races in 2013. Last season, he started 31 while splitting races with Ty Dillon.

“It’s kind of a unique feeling,” said McDowell, whose first Cup start was in March 2008 at Martinsville for Michael Waltrip Racing. “I’ve run a lot of races, but not at a high level. Not at the level that I wanted to be at. So this is the first year where I feel like I’m in competitive equipment with the right people, the right parts, the right partners, to go out there and really show what we can do and do it full-time.

“Last year … It was pretty close to full-time, so it wasn’t a huge jump. But, to know that now you have a shot if you do win a race, to be in the (playoffs) and to do all those things that small teams strive to do, is definitely a challenge we look forward to.”

McDowell and his team have “high hopes” this season, especially after he earned two tops 10s last season. That included his first top 10 in a non-restrictor plate race when he placed 10th in the finale in Miami.

“We’ve done a really great job in the off-season, infrastructure-wise, and just really getting prepared for this year,” McDowell said. “We hope to pick up right where we left off, and to do that consistently now that we’re running full-time. To run in those low 20s and be in the ‘teens gives you an opportunity to steal a good result, and hopefully we’ll be able to do that every weekend.”

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WATCH LIVE: NASCAR Xfinity race from Road America at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series races today in the Road America 180 Fired Up By Johnsonville at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN with Countdown to Green. The green flag is expected to fall shortly after 3 p.m. ET.

Veteran road course specialist Alex Tagliani starts from the pole. Michael McDowell is on the outside of the front row.

Justin Marks, who won two weeks ago in the rain at Mid-Ohio, will start from third position and is looking for his second career Xfinity Series victory.

Owen Kelly and Daniel Suarez round out the top five starters.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular Paul Menard won this race last year.

If you’re not near a TV, you can watch online or on the NBC Sports app at the NASCAR stream on NBC Sports.

If you plan to stream the race on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 3 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Leavine Family Racing parts ways with crew chief

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Leavine Family Racing announced Friday that crew chief Wally Rogers is no longer with the team.

The team is running a partial schedule and is not competing this weekend at Darlington Raceway. It will be back with driver Michael McDowell next weekend at Richmond International Raceway.

“We appreciate everything Wally has done for this organization,” team owner Bob Leavine said in a statement. “I’m committed to growing this race team and improving our on-track performance. Looking ahead to 2016, we are putting the pieces in place to improve the overall performance of this race team.”

McDowell’s best finish this season is 20th at Watkins Glen International. McDowell has started 11 of 24 races this season.