Glendale’s Michael McDowell Is the 2021 Daytona 500 Champion

Arizona Sports News online

AP Photo/John Raoux

The calm before the storm had every NASCAR fan on the edge of their seat in the rain-delayed running of the Daytona 500. As Brad Keselowski moved out to make the move on his teammate, Joey Logano, the two Team Penske drivers collided and spun out directly in front of McDowell’s No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford Mustang.

As Logano and Keselowski wrecked in a fiery collision, eliminating most of the field, defending NASCAR champion, Chase Elliott hunted McDowell for the Daytona 500 checkered flag. NASCAR abruptly threw the caution flag, concluding the race due to the severity of the wreck that occurred behind them. After a review by NASCAR, McDowell was ruled the leader when the caution flag was thrown, earning McDowell his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory, coming in the biggest race in the sport.

“Just got to thank God. So many years just grinding it out hoping for an opportunity like this.” McDowell said in a burst of excitement exiting his car postrace in front of the reduced Daytona crowd. “We’re the Daytona 500 champions, I can’t believe this! So thankful, God is good.”

McDowell is beginning his fourth season driving for Front Row Motorsports, owned by longtime NASCAR owner, Bob Jenkins. FRM is a lower budget team, without the funds of others such as Team Penske, Stewart-Hass Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Hendrick Motorsports, the No. 34 and his one-car teammate typically doesn’t have the engine power and resources to constantly contend for wins.

2020 was a breakout season for the 36-year-old, earning a best career finish at nine different tracks. In 2020, his 13th Cup season, McDowell earned his highest average finish in a single season and set a new career-high for top-tens in a season. It was McDowell’s 10th attempt to win the Daytona 500 and earned five top tens in his career at the track. He led only one lap on the night, the final one of the 63rd Daytona 500, earning FRM’s third Cup Series victory.

Born and raised in Glendale, McDowell grew up racing go-karts at the Phoenix Kart Racing Association track in Glendale, across the street from what is now Six Flags Hurricane Harbor. Now residing in North Carolina, McDowell gives back to the karting community as a minority owner of GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville, NC.

“You don’t stay around in this sport for as long as Michael McDowell has without hard work, without dedication, and without talent,” four-time NASCAR Cup Champion, Jeff Gordon, said on the FOX broadcast. “Today, all that came together at the right moment to win the biggest race of his career and the biggest race in our series.”

McDowell flexed his road course muscle back in 2016 when he won at Road America in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for Richard Childress Racing, becoming the first Arizona-born driver to win in one of NASCAR’s national touring series. The Glendale native also owns four career ARCA Menards Series victories to his credit. In 2004, he found victory lane on the former Phoenix Raceway road course in the Pro Star Mazda Series en route to claiming the season championship.

Phoenix Raceway will house NASCAR Championship Weekend in 2021, crowning four champions over three days. The Cup Series Championship will be Nov. 7 on NBC, and now, McDowell will have an opportunity to race his way into the championship race, only a trip down the Loop-101 from where he grew up.

The Glendale native, for the first time in his career, qualifies for the NASCAR Playoffs with his victory. NASCAR will stay in Daytona this week and take on another track that McDowell can excel at, the Daytona International Speedway Road Course.

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