Raise your hand if you predicted Michael McDowell would win the 2021 Daytona 500? Yeah, we didn’t either. Yet, that’s exactly what happened in February’s 63rd running of The Great American Race. Driving for a backmarker team in Front Row Motorsports and making his 358th start in NASCAR’s premier division, McDowell bagged his first Cup win on the grandest stage of all. And McDowell did so in electrifying fashion by passing Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski for the lead when the two Team Penske teammates collided and wrecked in accordion-style fashion in Turn 3 on the final lap at world-famous Daytona International Speedway.
“So many years just grinding it out and hoping for an opportunity like this,” said McDowell, a 36-year-old Phoenix, Arizona native who made his first Cup start in 2008. “We had our Ford partners (Keselowski and Logano) at the end, and they all crashed, but luckily, I was able to make it through. I’m just so thankful."
For McDowell, going to Victory Lane in the prestigious season opener at The World Center of Racing was sweet redemption after years of trying but failing to scratch at NASCAR’s highest level. It also proved that an underdog driver can soar on the sport’s grandest stage when facing the longest of odds. Although McDowell didn’t do anything of note the rest of the season, his victory at Daytona gave him national exposure unlike anything he had ever enjoyed and guaranteed him entry into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs for the first time.