Despite Playing Musical Cars, Michael McDowell Is Still On The Uprise

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IAugust 19, 2009

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 11:  Michael McDowell, driver of the #47  Tom's Toyota, poses for NASCAR Natiowide Series headshots at Daytona International Speedway on February 11, 2009 in Daytona, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Michael McDowell has left a lasting impression on everyone in NASCAR, unfortunately up until recently; it hadn’t been in a good way.

When thinking of McDowell the memory that comes to mind is April of 2008 during qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway. McDowell went down into turn one and got loose from the speedy dry that had been laid down after a blown engine and before he knew it, was a part of one of the worst accidents in NASCAR. 

The rear end snapped around before then shooting the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 00 head on into the wall at an estimated 165 miles an hour. The car then flipped 10 times down the track before coming to rest on the apron, completely obliterated.

At the time McDowell was only a Sprint Cup Series rookie attempting to qualify for his second career race. Thankfully he walked away from the horrifying crash and competed in 20 more races that year. But he had no top 10 or top-five finishes and ended up 40th in points and lost the ride to David Reutimann.

His Sprint Cup career for the moment was over. But since then McDowell is working toward giving everyone a better impression.

In January he was named the driver of the No. 47 JTG Daughtery machine in the Nationwide Series. JTG has a technical alliance with Michael Waltrip Racing and fit right in with the group. “I know that I’m climbing into a competitive program based on JTG’s on track performance,” McDowell said.

In their debut the Tom’s Snacks Toyota finished 14th in the season opening race at Daytona. But a week later in California McDowell lit up the night sky, literally, after the car he had qualified third with had an oil line break, which sent his Camry up in flames.

He made it home unhurt and on Wednesday, Feb. 25, he experienced one of the greatest joys in life—becoming a father. “I’m headed to Las Vegas to do what I love to do. I have a new fan, and I’m rolling all 7’s. Trace [son] was 7 pounds, 7 ounces, and was born at 7 o’clock on the dot. Jamie [his wife] is doing great and we couldn’t be happier. I wouldn’t bet against me this week.”

McDowell didn’t disappoint and took his sevens, including the No. 47 car, and finished a career and season best sixth place with it.

The JTG team plugged along and became one of the shining stars among the Nationwide Series regular drivers. By the halfway point of the season they were 11th in points, with three top 10s, except it wouldn’t be enough to keep McDowell in the seat.

At New Hampshire in June it was spotlighted that the team's 15 race deal was coming to an end and that they needed sponsorship to keep going. McDowell pleaded on the air for financial backing for a team that he had sitting just 30 points outside the top ten.

It worked, but only for the following weekend’s race in Daytona Beach. In their final race together, at the same track where it all began six months earlier, they finished 13th to earn their 11th top-15 finish in the 17 Nationwide Series races that had been run.

With numbers like that the man was losing his ride, and it didn’t make things any easier for McDowell. “I’m disappointed, for sure, but at the same time, you have to take the good with the bad. This sport has a lot of ups and downs. I’m just glad that we were able to run as many races as we did,” he said afterward.

“In January, this team had [sponsorship for] four races and I didn’t have any. So we were both able to benefit from this situation and build good relationships, and who knows what the future holds.”

McDowell would get to race a week later in Chicagoland, this time behind the wheel of the No. 81 Dodge for MacDonald Motorsports, which became a two-race deal. He drove it to a 25th at Chicago and wound up 32nd in St. Louis because of a suspension problem. 

The team then added another race, competing at O’Riley Raceway Park in Indianapolis, but unfortunately finished 28th and lack of sponsorship once again took McDowell out of the car.

Third time, though, is the charm as McDowell was tabbed to run for K-Automotive Racing in another two-race deal. The No. 26 Dodge that is normally driven by Brian Keselowski  saw McDowell get in the car and Keselowski moved to crew chiefing duties.

After locking up his fifth top ten starting spot in Iowa, McDowell locked up his fourth top ten finish of 2009, eighth, in what Keselowski called a 15th place car that he was able to drive the wheels off of.

“This is a small team but they can pack a punch,” McDowell reflected. “We proved that here this weekend...It was a pleasure working with these guys.”

A tough week at Watkins Glen may have lowered their spirits, finishing 28th, but it kept McDowell 11th in points and still knocking on the top ten. After 21 races the Phoenix native has shown that he can be a contender and that he has finally found his spot in the Nationwide Series.

McDowell could possibly return to the No. 47 or No. 81 if financial support is found and after leaving Michigan with a top 20 finish he is now in 10th place in points. But still hoping that someone comes along to give him what he needs on a full-time basis to continue to impress.

There’s no doubt that there is still plenty he can accomplish in the series and on Friday night he’ll look to that as he again will climb back aboard the Keselowski No. 26 Dodge. 

Looking back to a year ago though, it must be nice to see that McDowell has gone from daytime TV because of a horrendous accident to now prime time sports television because of his focus, determination and skill of getting in three different cars, with three different teams and still making a mark.

That mark could become permanent if that one big break that every driver needs would find it’s way to Michael McDowell so that NASCAR fans can see this rising superstar really shine.

Quote Source: Michael