Michael McDowell’s win Sunday at Indy marked the climax of a career that is unlike most drivers in motorsports today.
In the first two decades of his career, McDowell dominated go-karts and won in sports cars. He became a champion in the World Karting Association and the Star Mazda Championship, as well as a back-to-back International Karting Federation champion. He also became an IMSA winner in 2005 and earned two ChampCar starts in 2006.
In 2007, McDowell turned to stock car racing full-time. Right away, he earned four ARCA Menards Series wins and finished second to champion Frank Kimmel.
Success defined the first two decades of McDowell’s career. Perseverance defined the next decade-and-a-half.
In 2008, he made 20 Cup Series starts with Michael Waltrip Racing. He struggled, never finishing better than 20th and mostly being remembered for surviving a spectacular flip at Texas in April.
After MWR let McDowell go, he stayed afloat with several start-and-park rides in the Cup Series.
From 2009-13, he only finished 16 of 127 races he started, including the 2013 Daytona 500 when he finished ninth.
Despite that, Joe Gibbs Racing tabbed McDowell to drive its No. 20 car in five Xfinity Series races. He earned four top-10 finishes and led 30 of 57 laps in the other race, at Road America.
McDowell backed that first year up with top-10s in all five starts in 2012, at Mid-Ohio in 2013 and in all three starts in 2014.
In 2014, McDowell also landed at Leavine Family Racing. His tenure led him to more Xfinity Series starts and, at Road America in 2016, his first NASCAR win.
McDowell left LFR in 2017 but not without earning a top-5 finish and four top-10s for them. He also improved his average finish from 30.7 in 2015 to 24.5 in 2016 to 22.3 in 2017.
Since 2018, McDowell has led Front Row Motorsports toward that same progress and new highs.
In year one, he earned an average finish of 24.5. Two years later, in 2020, he earned four top-10 finishes.
It all led to 2021.
McDowell earned his first playoff appearance and first Cup Series win in the 2021 Daytona 500. The 500 was also FRM’s third series win and earned them their second playoff appearance.
Capitalizing on the more-level playing field of the Gen 7 car last year, FRM and McDowell reached new heights with 12 top-10 finishes and a 16.7 average finish.
While they missed the playoffs and lost crew chief Blake Harris, the stage was still set for a breakout year in 2023.
The weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway showed just how far they have come.
10 years before, McDowell came to the venue and finished 32nd, three laps down. Meanwhile FRM’s cars ran 34th, 35th and 38th, all three or more laps down.
In contrast, McDowell and Gilliland ran first and fourth in practice for FRM before Sunday’s race.
To top it off, McDowell won after leading 54 of 82 laps and placing first and second in the stages.
Now, McDowell and FRM have each won a full-length race on a non-drafting-dominant track under green flag conditions.
No asterisks or stipulations. Just pure domination.
Meanwhile, a Joe Gibbs Racing driver and two Hendrick Motorsports drivers have to fight for two weeks to try and earn what McDowell and FRM now have.
By earning a playoff berth in dominating fashion, re-signing McDowell and Gilliland for 2024 and helping point Zane Smith toward NASCAR stardom, the industry is taking notice of Front Row Motorsports.
President John Quincy Adams once said, “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.” After extensive patience and perseverance, difficulties are disappearing and obstacles are vanishing for McDowell and FRM as they build themselves into a formidable unit for the future.