Glendale native and 14-year NASCAR veteran Michael McDowell was honored in front of the Glendale Civic Center on March 11 for his Feb. 14 Daytona 500 win.
He was given the key to the city, as well as having the date, March 11, 2021, proclaimed Michael McDowell Day in Glendale.
“What an incredible honor,” McDowell said. “I’m just humbled and thankful just to be able to celebrate this with our friends and our family, and to be here from Glendale.
“And to bring this Harley J. Earl trophy to Glendale, Arizona, is really special. I never thought something like this could ever happen.”
The win was McDowell’s first career victory in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“He was not somebody who was expected to win it,” said Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers. “He certainly had the opportunity multiple times, but I think it was probably almost as big of a surprise to him as it was most people.
“He showed his grit, what he’s made out of, and I think a lot of that has to do with Glendale. Everybody’s always thought of us as kind of the hokey town. Well, we’re proving we’re way better than that.”
McDowell, who drives the No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang for Front Row Motorsports, said the finish was too close for him to be immediately sure he’d won.
“Unlike typical race wins, where you cross the line and you know you won, I didn’t know if I won or not because the caution had come out and Chase Elliott and I were side by side,” McDowell said.
“I felt like I was ahead, but you don’t know until they give you the official word. It wasn’t right after the finish line but maybe 60 seconds later that I got the official word.”
McDowell’s return to the Valley came ahead of the March 14 Instacart 500 at Phoenix Raceway, at which he ended in 23th place. He said returning to his hometown with a win under his belt has allowed him to relive the experience with loved ones who weren’t there when the victory happened.
“Obviously, to be from Glendale and to represent Arizona, to be the first driver from Arizona to win the Daytona 500, all those things are really neat, but to have this opportunity with my family has been the best,” McDowell said.
“(The win) was a month ago, which feels like a really long time because of everything that’s happened in between. This week was kind of reliving that again with them. They couldn’t be there, a part of the celebration when it first happened, so it’s been a really fun week.”
One thing he shared about spending the week with his family in Glendale involved a coincidentally named street in the city.
“My kids, when we drive around, they’re like, ‘McDowell Road, is that for you? Is it named after you?’” McDowell said. “Now, I’m going to just tell them it is, right?”
McDowell, who began racing go-karts in the Valley at age 8, returned to the track where he started racing, Phoenix Kart Racing Association, as a child later in the day and held a friendly race against a few aspiring young drivers. He said he hopes his success can inspire more young people in the area to become professional drivers.
“There are pockets where there’s a lot of drivers who are from those areas, and this is not one of those pockets that people generally think of, but I do,” McDowell said. “There have been other guys who have come up through this area that have had success. So, it’s neat to carry that torch.
“I’m hopeful that kids, especially (ones) who are at the kart track right now, who are coming up the same way that I did, it’ll be inspiring to them to keep pushing and to keep pursuing their career, because it can happen. I think as a kid, or even as a teenager, when there are thousands and thousands and thousands of kids racing go-karts, it’s hard to really let that sink that you could make it, because only a select few make it, but … keep pushing through it and fight hard for it.”
McDowell said he was ready to compete in front of his hometown on March 14 at Phoenix Raceway.
“I think my confidence is up, not just because of the Daytona 500 win, but our performance in general has just been better everywhere, at a multitude of different tracks,” McDowell said.
“So far, this year has been a great progression, and so we feel like that’ll continue. Last year, here (in Phoenix), I think we (finished) 16th, 17th, like that. If we can move up a few spots and be in that top 10, then that puts you in contention to challenge, and that’s really what you want to be able to do every weekend.”
McDowell said he is hopeful he can notch his second win of the season but knows the real prize lies ahead in November, when the NASCAR Cup Series Championship returns to Phoenix Raceway.
“That would be icing on the cake for sure,” he said. “It’s been such an incredible year with the win and the support that I’ve had from the state and from the community and from Glendale. At the same time, if that doesn’t happen, the (Daytona 500) trophy’s still here. We’re still going to celebrate and be thankful for it and keep trying to have a good season and be prepared for when we come back here for the championship.”