Thanks to Michael McDowell, the 2021 Daytona 500 at least had a good outcome despite all the frustration that went on during the race. With a big underdog win, it at least gave fans a feel-good story to fall asleep to after the race ended.
McDowell has now scored a total of 1 win, 4 top fives, and 13 top tens in 14 years of Cup series racing. Obviously, McDowell’s career has not gone the way he had hoped when he was a development driver for Michael Waltrip Racing. He lasted longer than that team, so that’s something. McDowell’s NASCAR career has been stagnant for years now and his win at Daytona has a lot of people asking if this could be a big year for McDowell and Front Row Motorsports.
Last season, McDowell had his best year yet with 4 top tens, an average finish of 20th, and a standings finish of 23rd. Many fans and analysts had him poised to continue that momentum and have an even better 2021. So far, these predictions are correct, but will this be maintained?
What can we expect out of Michael McDowell the rest of the year?
A NASCAR driver hitting their prime at 36-years old is not unheard of, or out of the realm of possibilities. The possibility of a guy who has shown little to no potential for the last 14 years suddenly become a consistent threat for a win seems like pure imagination. Maybe that’s a little too lofty, I would like to believe that nobody expects Michael McDowell will become a consistent threat to win races.
The best case I see for McDowell that’s actually realistic is probably him moving up from a top twenty guy to a top fifteen. Bump his top ten numbers up a little bit. Maybe grab another win at a superspeedway, but that’s about it.
I think that Front Row Motorsports is still a few years away from becoming a contending team. Michael McDowell is also far from the driver they need to be able to get to a contending level. McDowell will forever be a Daytona 500 winner, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he never wins another race in his career, let alone this season.
McDowell has never shown anything resembling Cup series talent. I’m aware that’s a harsh thing to say right after a man wins the Daytona 500, but there has never been any evidence of him being that kind of driver. He’s stuck around for years thanks to the loyalty of sponsors like K-Love and Love’s Truck Stops and because he keeps the cars running to the finish.
I’m happy for Michael McDowell, but my belief is that we’ll see a slight uptick in his average finish and top tens. Nothing that’s going to wow anyone and once the playoffs start I expect him to be a quick exit.