Competing in his 16th season in the NASCAR Cup Series, Michael McDowell is scheduled to achieve a milestone start. By taking the green flag in this weekend’s event at Richmond Raceway, the driver of the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford Mustang will make his 400th career start in NASCAR’s premier series.
A native of Glendale, Arizona, and a former champion of the Star Mazda Championship region, McDowell had made five career starts between the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series before being announced as a Cup Series competitor and in Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 00 Toyota Camry for Michael Waltrip Racing, beginning at Martinsville Speedway in March 2008. McDowell’s promotion to NASCAR’s premier series came after Dale Jarrett, the 1999 Cup Series champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer, retired from competition while David Reutimann took over Jarrett’s No. 44 Toyota. Starting in 34th place, McDowell finished 26th in his Cup debut after cutting a tire in the closing laps.
The following weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, McDowell was involved in a horrific accident during his qualifying session, where he got loose entering Turn 1, veered into the outside SAFER barriers head-on at over 180 mph, rolled over on his roof and barrel rolled seven times down to the apron before coming to rest on all four wheels. Despite the wild ride, McDowell was able to emerge uninjured as his wreck exemplified the effectiveness of modern safety enhancements made, from the SAFER barriers to the HANS device and the 2008 Car of Tomorrow stock car, to keep the competitors safe in the event of an on-track incident. McDowell went on to finish 33rd in the main event.
Following the Texas incident, McDowell continued to drive MWR’s No. 00 Toyota in the Cup Series from Phoenix Raceway in April through Kansas Speedway in September. During this span, his best on-track result was 20th at Richmond Raceway in September. McDowell, however, was released by the team for the rest of the season after he failed to qualify at Kansas Speedway in September.
The following season, McDowell campaigned on a full-time basis in the Xfinity Series, starting with JTG Daugherty Racing before transitioning to MacDonald Motorsports and Whitney Motorsports. His first Cup Series start of the 2009 season did not occur until September at Richmond, where he drove the No. 36 Toyota for Tommy Baldwin Racing to a 41st-place result after retiring early due to an engine issue. He competed in seven additional Cup races with Tommy Baldwin, where he did not finish in all of them and was credited with a result no higher than 38th place.
McDowell started the 2010 season on a high note by driving the No. 55 Toyota Camry for Prism Motorsports to a 14th-place result in the first of two duel races at Daytona International Speedway in February. The result rewarded him with one of two transfer spots to the 52nd running of the Daytona 500. During the main event, however, he finished 33rd due to a drive shaft issue. He competed in 23 additional events throughout the 36-race schedule, where he failed to finish in all but one race, which was at Talladega Superspeedway in October as he finished 35th, two laps behind the leaders.
McDowell competed in 32 of the 36-race schedule in 2011 with nearly all of his starts occurring with HP Racing. His best result with HP Racing was a 30th-place result at Sonoma Raceway in June. Then in November at Texas, he served as an interim competitor in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota Camry and in place of Kyle Busch, who was suspended by NASCAR throughout the weekend as a result of intentionally wrecking NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. in the early stages of the Truck Series event at the Lone Star state two days prior to the Cup event. During the event, however, McDowell, who struggled with pace, finished in 33rd place, three laps behind the leaders. He went on to conclude the season in 36th place in the final standings.
In 2012, McDowell remained with HP Racing that was renamed to Phil Parsons Racing. Driving the team’s No. 98 Ford Fusion in all but six of the 36-race Cup schedule, his best result was a 23rd-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway in August as he settled in 37th place in the final standings, one spot lower from 2011. By then, McDowell surpassed 100 career starts in the Cup Series.
Following the 2013 Cup season, where he competed in all but three races between three organizations (Phil Parsons Racing, Front Row Motorsports and HScott Motorsports) while achieving his first top-10 career finish during the 55th running of the Daytona 500 in February (ninth place), McDowell joined Leavine Family Racing to pilot the No. 95 Chevrolet SS for the 2014 season. He failed to qualify for the 56th running of the Daytona 500, but went on to compete in 19 of the 36-race schedule. His best on-track result during this span was seventh place in the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona 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 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 then, McDowell surpassed 200 career starts in NASCAR’s premier series.
The 2017 Cup Series season marked McDowell’s first time competing the entire 36-race schedule as he remained at Leavine Family Racing for a fourth consecutive season. Throughout the season, he earned his first top-five career result after finishing fourth at Daytona in July along with 14 top-20 results before finishing in 26th place in the final standings, which marked his first top-30 result in a driver’s standings.
In 2018, McDowell moved to Front Row Motorsports to pilot the No. 34 Ford Fusion, where he replaced Landon Cassill. He commenced the season with a ninth-place finish in the 60th running of the Daytona 500 in February. He went on to record nine additional top-20 results, a career-high 33 laps led and a 26th-place result in the final standings for a second consecutive season.
Returning to Front Row Motorsports for the 2019 season, McDowell started the season by finishing in fifth place in the 61st running of the Daytona 500. This marked his third top-10 result in the 500. He then 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 finish in 27th place in the final standings. Following the 2019 season, McDowell surpassed 300 Cup career starts.
In 2020, McDowell notched a career-high four top-10 results throughout the 36-race schedule with his best on-track result being a seventh-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July. He ended the season improving four spots from his result in the 2019 driver’s standings by settling in 23rd place in the 2020 standings.
Then in 2021, McDowell, who returned to FRM for a fourth consecutive season, pulled off the upset by claiming his first elusive Cup Series victory in the 63rd running of the Daytona 500 after dodging a multi-car wreck on the final lap while running in third place. The victory snapped McDowell’s 358-race winless drought, which marks the second-largest winless streak in NASCAR history prior to a first victory and right behind Michael Waltrip’s 463-race drought prior to claiming his first win in the 2001 Daytona 500. With the victory, McDowell became the 40th different competitor to win the Daytona 500 and the 196th different competitor to win in the Cup Series as he recorded the first 500 victory for Front Row Motorsports. The 500 win guaranteed McDowell and his No. 34 FRM team a spot into the 2021 Cup Playoffs.
The early momentum into 2021 for McDowell did not stop there as he finished eighth during the following weekend at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course, which was followed by a sixth-place result at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Seven races later, McDowell collected a strong third-place result at Talladega in April following a late battle with eventual winner Brad Keselowski. He went on to collect a seventh-place result at the Circuit of the Americas in May before entering the 2021 Cup Playoffs for the first time in his career. His title hopes, however, came to an end during the Round of 16 after finishing no higher than 24th during the opening round’s three events. Nonetheless, he finished a career-best 16th place in a season where he claimed his first victory, a career-high five top-10 results and a career-best average result of 20.5.
Through 399 previous Cup starts, McDowell has achieved one victory, five top-five results, 18 top-10 results, 118 laps led and an average-finishing result of 29.0. His highest-finishing result through the first six scheduled events of 2022 is seventh, which occurred in the 64th running of the Daytona 500 in February, and he currently sits in 26th place in the regular season standings.
McDowell is scheduled to make his 400th Cup Series career start at Richmond Raceway on Sunday, April 3, with coverage to occur at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.