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McDowell Has A New Highlight Reel

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 11 2010
Michael McDowell was up and talking after Texas crash. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Michael McDowell was up and talking after Texas crash. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Daytona Beach, Fla. – Michael McDowell became an instant classic on Youtube following his vicious wreck during Sprint Cup qualifying in April 2008 at Texas Motor Speedway.

On Thursday, the Phoenix native took a major step toward shedding the label of a driver best-known for a horrifying, barrel-roll crash.

He drove an unsponsored Toyota for Prism Motorsports to a 14th-place finish in the first Gatorade Duel at Daytona International Speedway to earn a berth in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

It will be the 25-year-old driver’s first start in the Great American Race.

“What, you don’t like Texas?” McDowell said with a wide smile when asked if he has a new highlight film. “For me, it’s one race at a time. You’re only as good as your last race in this sport, especially when you’re a guy like myself that’s sort of just barely hanging on.

“That’s how I feel every weekend, that I have to justify my existence in this sport. It’s a very difficult deal. It’s a lot of pressure.”

Fresh off a four win season in ARCA in 2007, McDowell made an improbable jump into NASCAR’s Cup Series after landing a ride with Michael Waltrip Racing.

But a turbulent 2008 rookie season in NASCAR’s elite series left McDowell relegated to the Nationwide Series the following year.

A successful pairing with JTG Daugherty Racing in NASCAR’s junior circuit came to an end at midseason when sponsorship ran dry in July 2009. McDowell managed to piece together rides for the remainder of the season to keep his name in circulation.

“Last year, when I started the July 4th race in the Nationwide Series, I didn’t have anything moving forward,” McDowell said. “I was very fortunate that Randy MacDonald of MacDonald Motorsports was walking on the grid and said ‘hey, what are you doing next week?

“Without that, I probably wouldn’t have been in the game. It all comes around. It’s really crazy. Running good in the Nationwide and staying up in the top 10 in points last year gave me the opportunity to drive for Tommy Baldwin and the No. 36 (Cup) car, which put me sort of back on the map as a guy that can make races and do the job.

“And that’s what put me in position for this ride today.”

As team co-owner Phil Parsons continues the hunt for sponsorship for the No. 55 Toyota for the upcoming season, McDowell realizes he’s a longshot to contend for a win on Sunday.

But in his eyes, a start in the 500 is just as good as a victory.

“I actually feel like I’ve already won the Daytona 500,” said McDowell, who was 50th-fastest in qualifying last weekend. “Going into this (qualifying) race, we had high hopes. But you never know.

“You’re racing for four spots out and there are a lot of great cars out there.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 11 2010
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