McDowell Makes NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Debut

March 30th is significant to Michael McDowell because he will make his long-awaited NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut with Michael Waltrip Racing in the Goody's Cool Orange 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

"I can't believe the time is finally here," McDowell said. "I know I can't underestimate how difficult it is going to be. I can act confident and say it's going to be easy and jump in and do it, but we all know there have been a lot of great drivers that haven't been able to do it."

As the 23-year-old steps into the #00 Toyota Camry, Aaron's Sales and Lease Ownership announces today that their partnership will continue with the Michael Waltrip Racing team through Richmond International Raceway.

"Aaron's has a longstanding relationship with Michael Waltrip Racing and I'm proud they will be with me for my Cup debut," McDowell said. "They were an associate sponsor for my Nationwide Series debut (11/3/07 at Texas Motor Speedway) and it is cool to have them as a primary sponsor this weekend. They have had a lot of success with Michael Waltrip Racing and I look forward to delivering a solid finish for them this weekend at Martinsville."

"We are thrilled to continue to be on the #00 for the next five races and help introduce Michael McDowell to the Cup side." stated Ken Butler, President of Aaron's Sales and Lease Ownership. "We are proud to be able to extend our involvement in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with Michael Waltrip Racing and look forward to having McDowell in the Aaron's Dream Machine especially at Talladega Superspeedway for our race, the Aaron's 499. I have seen Michael race in the ARCA Series last year and was impressed with his driving. I think he will do well at this level and everyone at Aaron's will be behind him 100 percent."

This may be McDowell's first race in the #00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota Camry, but this is his second visit to the .526-oval.

"In October, I raced for Darrell Waltrip Motorsports in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the biggest thing I learned is you have to be patient," McDowell said. "We got in a late race pileup and finished 30th, but I was able to complete 181 laps to gain some experience. This weekend, our goal is to finish every lap in the Aaron's Dream Machine and maintain a top 35 points position."

After Bristol Motor Speedway, all three Michael Waltrip Racing entries were locked into the top 35. McDowell is glad the pressure to make the race is no longer there.

"It's a relief that we are in the race, but we will still put pressure on ourselves to qualify well," McDowell said. "I do feel really comfortable about qualifying. I had nine poles in the ARCA RE/MAX Series last year and all the other series I've been in, I've been able to qualify pretty well. I'm ready to get going with my crew chief – Bill Pappas. He's new to the Series and his open wheel résumé' as a chief engineer is quite impressive. We look forward to learning and growing together to develop a solid program. We know we've got to make all the races and stay inside the top 35."

The Glendale, Ariz.-native has been extensively testing to prepare for his debut and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Raybestos rookie year.

"I started testing in the off season and did a lot of tests in November, December and January," McDowell said. "We tested in Caraway (N.C.) recently and I'm testing more this week before we head to Martinsville. There's no track you can test that can compare to Martinsville. You just have to look for trends that you can hopefully carry over."

To sharpen his skills, McDowell also competed in three NASCAR Nationwide Series events last year and the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway. His success in the ARCA RE/MAX Series last year led to his ultimate opportunity with Michael Waltrip Racing.

"Michael Waltrip Racing had a program in place to develop drivers at Eddie Sharp Racing and I was racing there under my own deal," said McDowell, who finished second in the ARCA RE/MAX Series championship with four wins. "As we started having success, that led to the testing opportunities with Michael Waltrip Racing and then a few Nationwide races and then a truck race at Martinsville last year. After that, I started testing Cup cars for them and it led to where I am now."

Live coverage of the Goody's Cool Orange 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, March 30th begins at 1:30 p.m. Eastern on FOX and 2 p.m. Eastern on MRN Radio.

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