Michael McDowell’s start to the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season means a lot more when you look at the career he has had leading up to it.
Many chalked up Michael McDowell’s 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500 victory as a fluke, given the fact that it was his first career win, it came in his 358th career start in his 14th career season, he was at the right place at the right time and led only one lap.
In some respects, that may be true. But how the 36-year-old Phoenix, Arizona native has backed up that performance has been impressive to say the least, especially considering the career that he has had to get to this point.
McDowell had competed in 321 races over 12 seasons leading up to the 2020 season, which was his third behind the wheel of the #34 Ford for Front Row Motorsports.
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He had only recorded eight top 10 finishes in those 321 races, and his only top 10 finish in a non-superspeedway race was a 10th place finish he earned after the late chaos in the 2016 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
He had never recorded more than three top 10 finishes in any two-year span. Two was his best mark in a single season, and he did it in 2016 and then again in 2019. In the latter, he did so with two top five finishes at Talladega Superspeedway, tripling his career top five finish total.
McDowell is still with Front Row Motorsports this season, and they are still one of the smaller teams in the Cup Series. That hasn’t changed.
But his performance has.
Last season, McDowell recorded four top 10 finishes, bettering his previous best for a two-year span in a single year, and he did it without any top 10 finishes in superspeedway races, which quintupled his career top 10 finish total in non-superspeedway races.
He finished in eighth place at Pocono Raceway, seventh at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 10th at the Daytona International Speedway road course and 10th at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Now this season, he has reeled off three top 10 finishes in 14 days.
He opened up the 2021 season with a Daytona 500 victory, his first victory in 358 career starts. Only one other driver had even gone longer than 358 races before securing his first win.
He backed that up with an eighth place finish at the Daytona International Speedway road course and a sixth place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
So in a matter of 14 days, he has done what, prior to his career year last year, he had never managed to do in a span of two seasons.
Before this year, he had never even started a season with two straight lead-lap finishes! On top of that, with three top eight finishes so far this season, he has already surpassed his career-high single-season top eight finish total.
McDowell and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick are the only two drivers without any finishes lower than eighth place this season, and they are tied for the best average finish.
For Harvick, that kind of thing is expected; he reeled off eight straight top 10 finishes to start the 2020 season. But for McDowell, the former start-and-park driver, it’s would have been considered great start to the season just to have three lead-lap finishes through three races. He had only ever gone two for three in that category once, and that was back in 2017.
Will McDowell keep his streak rolling at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in this afternoon’s Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube? This race is set to be broadcast live on Fox beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET.
McDowell has an average finish of 32.93 in 14 starts at the track and a top finish of 18th place in March 2017. In six starts there with Front Row Motorsports, his average finish is 29.50 and his top finish is 21st from September 2020.