Michael McDowell is coming to Talladega this week from the Cup Series playoff picture, but he’s still a threat to win.
In the past six races at the Talladega Superspeedway, he has finished third, fifth and eighth. He’s also earned three top-five spots on the high-speed circuit at Daytona, including his only Cup Series win in 2021 when he won the Daytona 500.
At 37 years old, he’s older than quite a few of his competitors, but he’s nearing the start of his career. He’s been in the cup series since 2008, but nearly all of his best results have come since 2019. That’s when he scored 22 out of 28 of his career in the top 10.
His average finish this season is 16.5, which is by far the best of his career.
McDowell took the time recently to answer a bunch of questions about his victory at Daytona a year ago, his success at Talladega and, of course, his favorite snack.
A question: I won an exciting race in Daytona to start last season. Can you describe what this win has meant to your career since then?
Answer: It is hard to say in words how important this win was. Winning the Daytona 500, the biggest race in our sport and not just our sport but arguably in motorsport, to be our first win and come after so many years of fighting and overcoming it and trying to stay in the sport, kind of holding on to my dear life, to finally get the first A win for Lee and making it such a significant race was a lifetime achievement. amazing thing. He’s obviously brought a huge amount in my career, but more than anything, I’ve devoted my entire life to being a race car driver and finally paying off where you really feel like you’ve accomplished something special.
s: It’s been a year and a half, but has the talk of Daytona’s win progressed?
a: No (laughs), I don’t think it’s something I’m tired of. That’s what’s different in a race like this, isn’t it? It’s one of those historic events that everyone will remember, and it’s something I think of in the Indy 500, Le Mans and the 24 Hours at Daytona – these are iconic races that will always have a lot of meaning and impact.
s: I recently had some good results. I got 11 points out of the top 10 ranks. Seems to be part of a trend in the past three years where you’ve been getting better and better. Can you discuss this improvement and how your chief of staff, Blake Harris, has helped you this season.
a: There was definitely a good trend for us at Front Row Motorsports, and what caused that transition were the good people and progress. They were small steps. Every year I’ve been there, we’ve gotten a few better positions in our average end and points. We’ve come to a point where over the past two years we’ve been more consistent in that 15th summit. When you do this every week, you’ll have more top ten, more top five players, and more chances to win races. It was not an overnight success. It’s been a process for the past five years, but it’s also been very fun and rewarding to slowly build this program to the point and place it is now.
Obviously, adding Blake to the team in the off-season, was a huge leap for us. It was an amazing transition for me. For all of us, this was a step forward in the right direction. I think the next generation car is a big part of that, too. Just getting a fresh, clean slate from the point of view of the overall vehicle platform and all the new parts and pieces, with everyone having the same bits and pieces, it’s a very level playing field. It just puts us in a really good place.
s: You’ve been a local fan favorite in Talladega because you’ve had some really good finishing touches there lately. I was fifth in the fall 2019 race, third in the spring 2010 race and eighth last spring. Why do you think you’ve done so well there lately?
a: For me, I became a sprint student, and that’s something I started many years ago. People used to say, “Oh, it’s anybody’s sweat. It’s a killer.” There are a lot of elements for super speed racing, this style of racing. But I saw a trend that the same guys were running up front and winning those races. And the same trend in Daytona.
If you look from a historical point of view, there are a lot of multi-time winning players in those places. Think of Denny Hamlin’s three Daytona 500 wins, Brad Keselowski and the success he had at Talladega. I became a student of these guys and what they did. I tried watching the video and studying the data and putting myself in their position as they made those moves and figuring out how they process things and how they think about them, because I felt like these guys were the ones who were usually the winning ones. And if you want to win, you’ll have to know what the winners do. This has been a huge part of the success at breakneck speed.
It’s not perfect. You can still enter the Big One. You can still be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I feel like the last six or seven trips to Talladega and Daytona, we’ve been in contention for the win.
s: Final question: What is your favorite snack? Denny Hamlin says it’s anything that contains peanut butter. Chase Elliott says nothing beats a big bowl of cereal; It’s hard to add a chocolate chip cookie, says Austin Dillon.
a: May I say pizza as a snack?
s: Of course, pizza is a great snack.
A: Maybe instead of a whole pizza, it’ll be a slice.