Michael McDowell’s first career NASCAR Cup Series win has been a long time coming.
The veteran driver has been in the Cup Series since 2008, but last night he finally found his way to victory lane for the first time – and he did it in NASCAR’s biggest race, the Daytona 500.
You know that first win has to be a huge relief for McDowell for a number of reasons. He got his start driving for Michael Waltrip Racing way back in 2008, but lost his ride before his rookie season was even over.
Since then, McDowell has bounced around to a number of start-and-park teams (teams that start the race for the paycheck and then park after a couple of laps to save their equipment).
And up until now, the biggest moment of his career that has no doubt haunted McDowell for the last 13 years has been his fiery 2008 crash during qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway.
The crash came during just McDowell’s second career Cup Series start, back when NASCAR still used single-car qualifying. As McDowell’s #00 car entered turn one at well over 180 mph, the car bobbled in some speedy dry that had been put down after a previous wreck – and when McDowell tried to hit the brakes, the pedal went to the floor and he was just along for the ride.
The result was a brutal 185-mph head-on collision with the outside wall that flipped McDowell’s car on its top before it barrel-rolled down the track and came to rest on the apron.
It’s one of the scariest-looking crashes that I can ever remember seeing in NASCAR – and miraculously, McDowell managed to get out of the car and walk away under his own power.
It was said a lot after McDowell’s wreck in 2008, and said again last night after the fiery crash at the end of the Daytona 500, but the safety improvements that NASCAR made after the untimely death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001 have undoubtedly saved numerous lives – including, likely, Michael McDowell’s.
And now, McDowell finally has something to add to the highlight reel besides a fiery qualifying crash: A Daytona 500 win.