NASCAR: The Cup Series record Michael McDowell nearly broke

Michael McDowell, Front Row Motorsports, Daytona 500, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Michael McDowell, Front Row Motorsports, Daytona 500, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

Only one driver has gone further into his NASCAR Cup Series career before scoring his first win than Michael McDowell had before his Daytona 500 victory.

For the third time in the last five years, the Daytona 500 winner led only the final lap around Daytona International Speedway to open up the NASCAR Cup Series season.

After Kurt Busch did it in 2017, marking the first time in 59 races that it had been done, Austin Dillon did it again in 2018.

This year, it was Michael McDowell who positioned himself in the right place at the right time when Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski triggered a massive wreck at the front.

As a result, the former start-and-park driver and Cup Series veteran became a Daytona 500 champion after leading only the 200th and final lap around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) high-banked oval in Daytona Beach, Florida behind the wheel of his Love’s-sponsored #34 Front Row Motorsports Ford.

In doing so, he nearly broke not just a Daytona 500 record but an all-time Cup Series record.

McDowell has been competing in the Cup Series since 2008, and he entered Sunday’s running of the “Great American Race” with 357 starts under his belt.

He secured career win number one in start number 358.

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Only one driver in Cup Series history had ever gone more than 357 starts before securing his first win, and that driver also happened to win the Daytona 500 to secure his first win. Michael Waltrip entered the 2001 Daytona 500 with 462 career winless starts under his belt, and he secured career win number one in that race.

In fact, the top three drivers on this list all scored their first wins in the Daytona 500, with Sterling Marlin doing so in his 279th career start back in 1994.

Only five drivers aside from Waltrip, McDowell and Marlin secured their first career wins in the Daytona 500. The most recent driver to do it was Trevor Bayne, who did it in just his second career Cup Series start back in 2011.

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The drivers who round out the top five on the all-time starts list before any Cup Series win, not specifically in the Daytona 500, are Dave Marcis and Johnny Benson Jr. Marcis secured his first win in career start number 227 at Martinsville Speedway in 1975 while Benson secure his first win in career start number 226 at Rockingham Speedway in 2002.