The Daytona 500 is known by many as The Great American Race. And this year, in a COVID-19 filled world, it served as the official kick-starter to the NASCAR Cup Series 2021 season. A six-hour race featuring a number of wrecks, delays and abrupt weather changes also saw 14-year NASCAR veteran finish the night atop the leaderboard and celebrate in victory lane.
Years Of Grinding It Out
“I just can’t believe it,” Michael McDowell told FOX Sports after pulling himself out of the No. 34 car post-race. “I’ve just got to thank God. So many years just grinding it out and hoping for an opportunity like this. I am just so thankful. Such a great way to get a first victory at Daytona 500 – are you kidding me! I am so thankful. God is good.”
Coming into the race, McDowell was considered a 100-1 underdog, but following a final lap wreck between co-leaders Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, the seas parted for McDowell’s yellow and black Ford to emerge atop the pack.
Prior to the 2021 running of the Daytona 500, the 36-year-old from Glendale, AZ. had never earned the podium in his previous 357 Cup starts. As a matter of fact, McDowell had actually only accumulated four top-10 finishes throughout the entire 2020 racing season.
Following his win at Daytona, the Front Row Motorsports driver then went on to earn an eighth-place finish the following week before coming in sixth in Miami. That placed him alongside Kevin Harvick as the only two drivers to have three top-10 finishes in the season’s three races thus far.
Much like that of his genuine response regarding the Daytona 500, McDowell offered up another juicy soundbyte when asked how he’d respond to someone telling him of his three-straight top-10 finishes to start the season.
“I’d say that you’re crazy,” McDowell laughed. “I think that we are realistic about where we finished the year and where we wanted to be; we thought that we were in that 15th to 20th range pretty consistently last year. So to make a big jump like we did, I wouldn’t say that it’s a complete unbelievable shock, but it’s pretty close to it. We have definitely out-performed where we thought we would be…. We had a good run last year, but we came back and made some improvements and kind of shocked ourselves.”
Adding to the accolades was Glendale, AZ. Mayor Jerry Weiers, who presented McDowell with a key to the city while proclaiming March 11, 2021, as ‘Michael McDowell Day’.
“It’s been such a special day spent in my hometown of Glendale, Arizona with my family, Mayor Jerry Weiers, city council members, Phoenix Raceway and the media,” McDowell tweeted on March 11. “I am beyond grateful to have been given the key to the city and to have 3/11 recognized as Michael McDowell day. #Thankful”
Walking With God
McDowell, a professed Christian, has spent the past number of years chasing the field in terms of playoff qualifying. With his Daytona 500 victory, the former International Kart Federation champion has already clinched a playoff berth with 24 races to go, something he still can’t believe.
“For the last 10 or 12 years, I’ve been in a year-to-year situation,” McDowell said on the Sports Spectrum podcast just four days after his victory. “I haven’t had a five-year contract or a multi-year contract. Every year, I literally need the Lord to provide the opportunity. Because of that, I know it’s not me… It hasn’t always looked really good; it hasn’t always looked shiny and fun. But God has walked with me through this entire journey. That journey is what makes it sweet.”
“God has walked with me through this entire journey. That journey is what makes it sweet.”
The journey that McDowell is referencing was 14 years in the making. Yes, you read that correctly: 14 years. Talk about a pilgrimage. But then again, in drawing back to his humble roots, McDowell made sure to remain grounded in his answers at the post-race press conference.
“It does, but whether I win this race or not, it’s not what defines you,” he said when asked if the feeling that came from winning the race matched his wildest dreams. “It’s unbelievable, and I’m so thankful. But I’m thankful to have a happy, healthy family, a beautiful wife and a great family. Not everybody makes it to victory lane. And for 14 years I didn’t, so just to be here now is just so amazing.”