WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) — Michael McDowell is in his second year driving the No. 95 Ford for Leavine Family Racing, and it's surely been a difficult road. The team is running a limited schedule of 20 races with an eye on racing full-time in the future.

"If you look at NASCAR, the top 25 cars are probably the top five or six teams," team owner Bob Leavine said. "It's tough to break into that. It was important to us to run quality races because we could have taken that money and scattered it out and ran a full year, but that wouldn't have gotten us to where we want to get."

SpongeBob SquarePants Larry the Lobster was featured on the car at Kansas, along with WRL, while Thrivent Financial is the primary sponsor for 10 races and an associate sponsor for another 10.

The family paid for the first four years of racing in an attempt to show a prospective partner that it was growing and trying to get better. Leavine said he didn't want to ask somebody for money to start the team.

"That isn't us," Leavine said. "We want to raise the bar and say, 'If you help us, we can run better and be better.' We know we can."

Leavine said his team's partnership with Penske Racing, which began two years ago, has been a lifesaver and is still developing.

"They've helped us move up and right now, if we were running all of the races, we would be a top-30 team," Leavine said. "That's not bad for a fifth-year team."

The team has bought its shop in North Carolina and is in the process of upgrading the facility. That means Leavine and his wife also will be moving from Texas into a rented townhouse in Concord.

"I want to be close to the race team for the rest of this year to meet with our partners and try to achieve our goal," Leavine said. "I feel good about where we can go, and I'm excited about the fact that we can get there with help. We can't do it on our own."

In nine races, McDowell ranks 38th in points, four points ahead of rookie Jeb Burton, who has 16 starts, and has yet to notch a top 10. McDowell also has failed to qualify three times.

"We're building and I think our biggest struggle and biggest fight we're up against is just being part-time," said McDowell, whose signature NASCAR moment was a violent crash during Cup qualifying at Texas in April 2008. "We'll go two weeks and have three weeks off. The development is happening so fast. For us, the next step and the big goal for our team is to not just run better, but to run every weekend."

In Sprint Cup qualifying on Saturday on the road course at Watkins Glen International, McDowell was 31st.