February 14, 2021
Daytona Beach, Florida, USA
Daytona International Speedway
An Interview with:
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Michael McDowell, our Daytona 500 champion.
Q. Did you ever dare believe you'd get over 300 races in the bank without a win, if it would ever happen, and not only did it happen, it wound up being just the Daytona 500?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: Yeah, how crazy is that? Yeah, you guys all know, it's been a tough road for me. I've had to spend a lot of years grinding it out, but I finally have felt like this last four years have been -- just been more competitive and greater opportunities with Front Row and Bob Jenkins. Daytona has been so good to us that we've been in the top 10, we've been in the top 5, we've been close. The last lap, there's been times where I've made the wrong choice, wrong lane and pushed the wrong guy, and it's just so hard to get in position and to do it, and to get my first Cup win at Daytona is just unbelievable.
I'm just so thankful, thankful for everybody that just has allowed me to do it. It's not been an easy road and there was lots of years where I was wondering what the heck am I doing and why am I doing it.
I always knew that if you just kept grinding that one day everything will line up and it will go right. But as you get further into it, you just don't know.
So I'm just thankful, very thankful to everybody that made it possible.
Q. Talk about going into Turn 3 on the last lap; you were obviously going to be part of the mix because where you'd been pushing all day because Keselowski was counting on you to go, people were counting on you to be in the mix, did you think you were just going to be a pusher or did you think maybe I've got a chance at this, actually have a chance at this?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: Yeah, I mean, to be honest with you, I had a plan before the race started. You never know if you're actually going to be in position to execute that plan because there's so much that can happen. You can get in the big one early on.
Having a plan is great, but it doesn't always work out. But I had a plan, and as it wound down to the last 10 laps, I was in a pretty good position. Not exactly where I wanted to be, and then we got a little bit shuffled, and I think Cole, the 41, made a move, and we were able to -- Brad and I stayed together, and I was in the position I wanted to be in coming to the white flag, and my plan was to push the 2 the entire lap until coming off of 4, and when I came off of 4 I was going to try to get to his outside or inside, but my plan was to stick with the 2 because I knew he was going to go for it. I knew he wasn't going to ride there.
But I also knew he wasn't going to pull out with three laps to go and try to get side by side with Joey or Kevin Harvick and there was other Fords up there. I felt like if I could just stay on his bumper, that would give me the opportunity when he did make the move to hopefully make a hole and make something happen. The hole happened on its own. I can't even tell you what happened.
Brad and I pulled down with a run and next thing you know Brad was turning right, Joey was turning left and I went right through the middle of it, and I looked in my mirror and I saw Chase Elliott with a run and I went up there and blocked him as fast as I could and we made a little bit of contact, and I didn't see anything else from that point. It's just kind of a blur from there.
Q. When you were racing go-karts back out there in Glendale, could you have imagined winning this race like this?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: No, never. You know, from the time I was a young age, I knew I wanted to be a race car driver. I didn't know what that looked like or where it would be, and so just -- my path was really open wheel and road racing and just so happened that I got an opportunity to go stock car racing. I'm so glad I did because the path that I was on, it would have been really tough to make it to the top, so I feel like as a kid growing up, I always dreamed of being a race car driver but never thought about being a Daytona 500 champion.
Q. I asked Denny Hamlin, I wanted to know -- this is a weird celebration because it's COVID and you didn't get to do all the normal things. Do you feel any different like people do sometimes at rain shortened races or does it feel just the same or do you have anything to compare it to?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: You know, the only thing I would have to compare it to would be my Xfinity win at Road America. But yeah, it's definitely different. But for me, I don't -- I don't know. I just feel like it's just so meaningful that even though it's under different circumstances, it'll still have a lasting memory.
The thing that I probably -- probably is the toughest is just not having my wife and my kids here. You only get so many shots at it, as you guys know. It's taken me like 400 shots to do it. It would be great to have them here with me. But unfortunately they're back home, and we'll celebrate with them tomorrow.
Yeah, that's the toughest thing is just not having my family here to celebrate with me.
Q. Did you think you were going to win this race?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: I know it's going to sound crazy, but I always think I'm going to win this race, and it doesn't happen, and you get done with it, and you look at it and you go, man, I should have done this, I should have done that, but if I would have done this or that, I would have had a shot at winning.
And so we talk about it, my team and I talk about it, Drew and I talk about it, if we just keep putting ourselves in that position, in the top 5 coming to the white flag, eventually it's going to go how we need it to go. When I came to the white flag I wasn't thinking I was going to win the race. I don't think drivers ever think that, but I was doing everything I could to try to win the race if that makes sense. I was thinking how am I going to win the race, but I wasn't thinking here it is I'm going to win my first race. I don't think drivers allow their minds to go there to think about what could be while you're in the heat of the moment, but I was going to do everything I could to get myself in position to try to win the race and felt like I was in the position that I had a shot at winning the race.
Q. Did you make contact with Logano at the end there or Keselowski?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: I definitely was pushing Brad. The last lap you just lock bumpers and push as hard as you could. But I gave him a shove, but we actually got disconnected and thankfully we did because it's when we got disconnected, and I didn't see how Joey and Brad got together, but it's when we got disconnected that the contact was made and that gave me a little bit of a gap to get through, otherwise I would have been right on the 2.
The way these runs work, sometimes when you hit a guy you kind of push him out a little bit and you get detached from him, and Brad and I had a great run and I was on his bumper and then he pulled down and I got a little bit detached from him and then him and the 22 got together.
I've only seen the replay once, but it doesn't -- you guys would have to tell me. I'm not sure what it looked like.
Q. Your guy Clayton Hughes is from our area of Lexington, and this was y'all's first race together. Talk about what he added to that race. How did he help you stay up there and maintain?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: Yeah, Clayton did a great job, and like you said, it's our first race working together. Him and I spent time at the shop going over video and looking at jumping on the phone and looking at different races and talking about where we need to be and how we need to position ourselves. I mean, if you listen to Brad and Joey with Coleman and with T.J. and those real top guys, man, they have such a good rhythm at these races and know when to block the lanes. So that's hard to create in just one race.
But I feel like Clayton and I put the time in to make sure that we both knew what we needed coming down here, and he did a great job, and I felt super confident with all the moves that I made. Yeah, it's crazy, just all the pieces coming together. Every element matters, and that was definitely an element that really helped us put it all together.
Q. It's been a little over an hour; has it sunk in yet?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: No, I mean, yes and no. You go from the super high and the emotion of man, I can't believe we just won the Daytona 500 and you're just ecstatic, and now it's a little bit more of that somber like humble, like man, I cannot believe this. This is just unbelievable and just so thankful.
So yeah, you're just going through a range of emotions. Like I said, when I see my family, that'll be different, as well.
Yeah, so it's unbelievable. Like I said, I'm just super thankful. Just so many times I've felt like, oh, this is it. When I lost the ride at LFR driving the 95, man, where am I going to go, finally starting to run full time and having decent runs and feeling like I was going somewhere and that's gone, so many times like that.
For Bob Jenkins to give me a shot in the 34 car with Love's, and Love's has been with Front Row for over nine years now and they are just the backbone of our organization, such a great partner. Even though Front Row has been to Victory Lane with David Ragan and with Chris Buescher, the Love's car has never been to Victory Lane with them. It's so cool to finally get them into Victory Lane because they've been such an integral part of Front Row and the growth of Front Row.
Q. When we talked on Wednesday, it was a lot of fun, you kind of talking about those humble beginnings and to see it all come to fruition tonight, I'm wondering what was it like when you first realized oh, my gosh, I just won the Daytona 500, and what's it mean to you to represent Arizona in that process?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: Yeah, I don't know if that's all sunk in. Yeah, like you said, we talked about this a week ago, what it would mean to win and just how long I've been grinding it out to try to get in position to win.
To be in the playoffs and to be able to go home and bring the trophy with me, to my dad and my brother and my family, that'll be very special.
Q. I know how big of a night this is for you, for the team. When you're sitting in the midst of 0-for-300-plus NASCAR Cup Series starts, do you reach a point -- I know you're kind of the eternal optimist, but was there ever a doubt, those thoughts of man, is it ever going to happen for me?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: I know it sounds crazy, but no. Y'all could ask my wife because she's more realistic, and she's just like, man, I don't think it's in the cards. Just for whatever reason, I don't know. I'm like, it's going to happen. I just know it is.
You know, I don't know why. I don't know why I have that feeling. But I also feel like if I don't come to the racetrack thinking like that, then why am I coming to the racetrack.
I think that for so long, that was a hard part because I knew that with start-and-parking and all that stuff, I'm not going to run the full race, not going to have a shot. But even when I was start-and-parking, I was like, man, one day I'm going to get a shot at it and I'll be able to do it because of all this that I've put into it. I never lost hope of that.
And when I come to the racetrack, when we load up and go, I really think every weekend, okay, this is the weekend it's going to happen. And I know that sounds crazy, but I do, and I have, and I have for a long time.
I think that's an important part of it is just believing that it's possible. It's not so much believing like, oh, I can do it, I'm good enough. I don't care about that stuff, just believing that it's possible that it could happen, and it did.
Q. What I would call the last true Daytona 500 upset came 10 years ago this weekend, and it was another driver who has a very strong faith like you do in Trevor Bayne. What do you think, a decade later, that Trevor gets a Daytona 500 win and now you've joined him in that category?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: Yeah, it's crazy. I can't wait to talk to him. Yeah, Trevor is such a close friend of mine and such a talented guy. Like even when you look at that, like man, how do I keep still getting opportunities and a Daytona 500 champion and a guy that's won races and his resume is a lot better than mine is making coffee right now. God just has a plan for each of us, and I just never felt like it was time for me to stop and it was time for me to quit. I just always felt like there's a win on the horizon, and you've just got to keep grinding it out.
Q. You talk about the grinding it out. Can you kind of go back, how you got to this point and maybe some examples of how close you came or especially early in your career? I know you had the MWR deal and that went away. If I'm not mistaken weren't you driving coaches part of the time, too, as you were doing some racing? Can you give me a sense of I guess how low things got or maybe the ladder you climbed to get to this point?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: Yeah, I wouldn't really call it low because during the time -- it's just all perspective, right? When I lost my job at MWR, that was pretty hard to overcome just because I was a young guy that came into NASCAR with not a lot of experience. I never ran truck. I never ran Xfinity. I ran one season of ARCA and had some success, and bam, I got picked up by MWR, a new manufacturer, and it just didn't work out.
So it's hard to rebound from something like that, and I just was able to work with Tad Geschickter and JTG and kind of take a step back and run Xfinity, and that went pretty well. We were running well, and we got about halfway through the season and there was no more funding. So that went away.
So then I started driving Brian Keselowski, Brad's brother's start-and-park cars, him and his dad and Kay, they gave me a shot to go run, and they missed some races, and man, we went to Iowa and ran top 10, we went to Bristol and ran top 10, went to Watkins and ran top 10. We ran the same car at all three races I'll add to you, so we ran a Bristol car at Watkins Glen.
You know, just those moments of man, it's like -- it gives you life. You feel like you're at the bottom and then you have a good run, and then I just drove for Randy McDonald and I drove for Phil Parsons, and Phil is such a huge part of me getting the experience I needed in Cup, even though it wasn't full races. I learned so much in that time. And Tommy Baldwin and Dustin Whitney.
When you show up to the racetrack knowing you're not going to race, it's hard. And like you said, yeah, I drove Trevor's coach for a while, and I've always driven -- I drove my own coach here. I did whatever I could. During those start-and-park days, I was at the shop every day working on the race cars, and so was Phil. You all know Phil, but Phil, I can't tell you how many transmissions he put in race cars before we went to the racetrack. We all worked on it, and we just had to get to the racetrack one way or another.
I wouldn't say like there was super lows where I was eating top ramen noodles and scraping to stay alive, but when you show up to the racetrack and you know that you're -- I don't even know how to say it. You're just in the way, taking up space, it's hard to do that year after year and week after week, and so you've got to have a bigger purpose than that. For me it was knowing that I would get an opportunity eventually.
Q. When you did driving Trevor's motor coach, that wasn't when he won the Daytona 500, that was before then, correct?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: Yep, and I driver coached and I worked with Ricky and Trevor and I worked with a lot of guys, in particular road race -- getting them ready for Watkins Glen, getting them ready for Road America, all those places. How I was able to keep things going was by doing a lot of driver coaching and doing whatever I could to keep my name in the hat, and that really helped me get those opportunities with Joe Gibbs Racing, which was another huge part of me still being here. Even though I didn't win, I had some great runs in there and sort of I felt like at that time I needed something that helped me just legitimize being here, and J.D. was who gave me those opportunities and literally did it because he knew I needed it.
So for years -- that propelled me for years. Just so many of those little things that add up to allow you to be here.
Q. When you look back on this win at whatever point in time, what are you going to remember most about it?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: You know, I don't know yet. I don't want to give you an answer. I don't know what I'll remember the most. I think what I'll remember the most is the group of guys that I did it with. I have a great relationship with Drew, and him and I, we fight hard. We scrap hard to get everything we can every weekend. So just to know somebody has got your back and you're fighting hard, and Bob Jenkins, man, he's just a great owner. He's a great friend.
So I think it's just the people. You'll remember the people.
Q. When you get to go home and tell your kids about this or maybe one day speak about it in church or maybe talk to the kids at PKRA, what is the moral of this story that we just saw this chapter close on today?
MICHAEL McDOWELL: Yeah, don't give up. I think that's what it's all about is just not giving up and just keep fighting hard. I think that that's not just the moral of my NASCAR journey, but that's the moral of everyday life. That's the moral of our race team, and we just keep fighting hard, and you just never know what's possible.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports