A significant milestone is in the making for Michael McDowell, driver of the No. 34 Ford Mustang for Front Row Motorsports in the NASCAR Cup Series. By taking the green flag for this weekend’s Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway, McDowell will reach 350 career starts in NASCAR’s premier series.
A native from Glendale, Arizona, McDowell was in the early stages of his racing career in NASCAR when he was selected as driver of the No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota Camry for Michael Waltrip Racing at Martinsville Speedway in March 2008. The move came as David Reutimann, who started the season as the No. 00 driver, moved over to drive MWR’s No. 44 UPS Toyota Camry for the remainder of the season when the 1999 Cup champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett retired as a competitor. Starting in 34th place, McDowell finished 26th in his Cup debut after sustaining a flat tire in the closing laps.
On April 4 at Texas Motor Speedway, McDowell was qualifying for the upcoming Cup weekend race at the Lone Star state when he got loose entering Turn 1. Trying to straighten the car, the car turned back to the right and made heavy head-on contact into the outside SAFER barriers at over 180 mph as the car rolled over. With the car spinning sideways while upside down across the barriers, the car rolled back over and proceeded into a series of barrel rolls down to the apron before coming to rest on all four wheels with fire bursting out at the front. Despite the accident that left the No. 00 Aaron’s Toyota demolished, McDowell was able to escape uninjured and make the mandatory trip to the infield care center. His wreck was a prime example of how the safety enhancements and features made within the sport throughout the modern era, from the SAFER barriers to the HANS device and the Car of Tomorrow, keep the competitors safe in the event of an on-track incident. The cause of the accident was later revealed due to a loose sway bar on McDowell’s car.
From Phoenix Raceway in April through Dover International Speedway in September, McDowell continued to drive Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 00 Toyota in the Cup Series, where his best result was 20th place at Richmond Raceway in September. After failing to qualify for the following race at Kansas Speedway, McDowell was released from the team.
Starting the 2009 season as an Xfinity Series competitor for JTG-Daugherty Racing, McDowell did not make a Cup start until September at Richmond. Driving the No. 36 Wave Energy Drink Toyota for Tommy Baldwin Racing, McDowell started and finished 41st in his first Cup start of the season. He competed in seven additional Cup races with Tommy Baldwin, where he finished no higher than 38th.
McDowell started the 2010 season by driving the No. 55 Toyota Camry for Prism Motorsports. He finished in 14th place in the first of two duel races at Daytona International Speedway in February and earned one of two transfer spots to the 52nd running of the Daytona 500 along with Max Papis. He went on, however, to finish 33rd in the main event due to a drive shaft issue. Throughout the 2010 Cup season, he competed in 24 of the 36-race schedule and he failed to finish in all but one race, which was at Talladega Superspeedway in October as he finished 35th and was two laps behind the leaders.
Throughout the 2011 Cup season, McDowell competed in 32 of the 36-race schedule, 31 with HP Racing. His best result with the team was 30th place at Sonoma Raceway in June. In November at Texas Motor Speedway, he drove the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing in place of the suspended Kyle Busch, who was parked by NASCAR throughout the weekend as a result of intentionally wrecking NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. in the Truck Series race at Texas at the start of the weekend. McDowell finished in 33rd place, three laps behind the leaders, in his lone Cup start with JGR.
In 2012, McDowell remained with HP Racing, which was renamed to Phil Parsons Racing. Competing in 30 of the 36-race Cup schedule and in the No. 98 K-Love Radio Ford Fusion, his best result was 23rd at Bristol Motor Speedway in August while he sustained 25 DNFs. Prior to the conclusion of the 2012 season, McDowell reached 100 career starts in the Cup Series.
Following the 2013 Cup season, where he competed in all but three races while achieving his first top-10 career finish in the Daytona 500 in February (ninth place), McDowell was named driver of the No. 95 Ford Fusion for Leavine Family Racing for the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series season. He failed to qualify for the Daytona 500, but went on to compete in 19 of the 36-race schedule. His best result was seventh place in the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway in July.
McDowell continued to drive for Leavine Family Racing in 2015, where he made 16 starts with the team and finished no higher than 20th place at Watkins Glen International in August, and in 2016 when LFR formed an alliance with Circle Sport and changed manufacturers from Ford to Chevrolet. Starting the 2016 Cup season in the No. 59 Thrivent Financial/K-LOVE Chevrolet SS, McDowell finished in 15th place in the 58th running of the Daytona 500. He then split driving responsibilities of the No. 95 LFR Chevrolet with Ty Dillon throughout the season, where he finished 10th at Daytona in July, 12th at Richmond in September and 14th at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October. He concluded the season by finishing in 10th place at Homestead-Miami Speedway and a career-best 30th place in the final standings. By the time the 2016 season concluded, McDowell had surpassed 200 career starts in the Cup Series.
Following the 2017 Cup season, where he competed the entire 36-race Cup schedule with Leavine Family Racing, achieved a career-best fourth-place finish at Daytona in July and finished a career-best 26th place in the final standings, McDowell moved to Front Row Motorsports to pilot the No. 34 Ford in 2018. He started the season by finishing in ninth place in the 60th running of the Daytona 500 in February. For the remainder of the season, he achieved nine additional top-20 results, led a career-high 33 laps in total and he concluded the season in 26th place in the final standings.
Remaining with Front Row Motorsports for the 2019 season while paired with former Daytona 500-winning crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, McDowell started the season on a high note by finishing in fifth place in the 61st running of the Daytona 500. He achieved three additional top-15 results over the next 29 Cup races before he logged in another fifth-place result at Talladega in October. He went on to conclude the season in 27th place in the final standings. Following the 2019 season, McDowell surpassed 300 Cup career starts.
This season, which marks his third with FRM, McDowell has achieved three top-10 results and nine top-15 results through 28 Cup races. He is ranked in 22nd place in the standings, he holds a career-best average result of 19.9 and is coming off a 25th-place result at Richmond while he also continues to pursue his first elusive victory in NASCAR’s premier series.
Catch McDowell’s milestone start at Bristol Motor Speedway for the Bass Pro Shops Night Race on Saturday, September 19. The race will air at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.