Michael McDowell’s Euphoria After Winning the Daytona 500 Ended With a Disgusting Task When He Got Home
The clock is ticking on Michael McDowell’s time as defending champion of the Daytona 500. While anything can happen at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, and often does, the likelihood of the 15th-year NASCAR Cup Series competitor repeating in the sport’s signature race approximates that of Aaron Rodgers not dragging out speculation about his 2022 playing status.
Winning Daytona earned McDowell and Front Row Motorsports a pile of cash to kick off last season, but that didn’t leave him feeling he was above detailing the family car after his championship weekend ended on a sour note.
Michael McDowell rode good fortune to a Daytona 500 victory
Trevor Bayne (2011), Austin Dillon (2018), and Michael McDowell (2021) all qualify as unexpected winners of the Daytona 500 in the past dozen seasons. In McDowell’s case, he entered the new season winless in 357 previous NASCAR Cup Series starts. He prevailed on the wings of good fortune after placing ninth in the first of the Bluegreen Vacation Duels 150s.
In the 500, polesitter Alex Bowman became a casualty of “The Big One” on lap 14, an incident involving 16 cars that ended the day for 10 of them. Shortly after action resumed, rain and lightning ruled the remainder of the afternoon, halting racing for close to six hours.
After the restart, the remainder of the race was relatively uneventful until the last lap. Brad Keselowski tried passing Joey Logano for the lead on the backstretch. They tangled, and Keselowski plowed into the catch fence after being rammed by Kyle Busch. McDowell, running right behind the leaders, came through unscathed, splitting the difference as Keselowski and Logano went spinning on opposite sides of the track.
Four others came through cleanly on McDowell’s tail, and Chase Elliott and Dillon briefly pulled ahead of him before McDowell, running at the top of the track, surged back to the front as the warning lights started flashing. By taking the checkered flag, he became the eighth driver to score his first career Cup Series triumph in the Daytona 500.
Elliott, Dillon, Kevin Harvick, and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five. Any of the four could have won had McDowell been running even three inches closer to Keselowski and Logano at the time they triggered the fiery wreck.
Michael McDowell’s euphoria preceded a disgusting task at home
With the rain delay pushing the finish of the Daytona 500 far into the night, few drivers got out of town on Sunday. Having completed his media and sponsor obligations as the winner, Michael McDowell returned to North Carolina the following day.
The Phoenix native had posted three previous top-10 showings in the season-opening race and finished in the top half of the field five consecutive years. But winning was an entirely different matter. Family and friends turned out to greet McDowell and celebrate at the airport.
Whether it was the excitement of the day or a bug that was going around, one of McDowell’s children became ill on the ride home, and she threw up in the car.
“So, the first thing that I did when I got home was take all the seats out and clean out the car, vacuum out the puke,” McDowell told NBC Sports. “It was back to reality very quickly.”
Talk about coming down from a euphoric moment in a guy’s career.
“I kind of consider myself like an average Joe that has made it to the highest level and won the biggest race in motorsports,” McDowell said.
The Daytona champ’s remainder of 2021 was unremarkable
Winning the Daytona 500 was enough to propel Michael McDowell into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, but he was a quick out after finishing 37th at Darlington, 28th at Richmond, and 24th at Bristol.
Realistically, McDowell didn’t have much of a season after the first month of the schedule. After the victory, he placed eighth on the Daytona road course, sixth at Homestead, and 17th at Las Vegas after leading a season-high nine laps.
Beyond that, there would be just two more top-10 finishes. He doesn’t figure to be a favorite in this year’s Daytona opener, but that matters little to McDowell. Scoring that first victory allowed him to drive with newfound comfort and confidence, which will carry over into 2022.
“I just didn’t have this weight that I was carrying around that I’ve had, and I didn’t even know I had,” he explained. “So, I felt like I was a much better driver after the win, decision-making and just being able to capitalize on the moment and opportunities inside the race car.”
And he does get to be the BMOC at Daytona right up until the next green flag.
“More than anything, what I learned was how much and how big a deal winning the Daytona 500 is, bigger than I expected even being in the industry and being around it,” McDowell said.
True, but it didn’t give him a bye from being a dad the day after his biggest moment.
All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.