CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It took 10 years for Michael McDowell to earn his first NASCAR trophy, but it doesn’t reside in a place of endearment.
“It’s on the floor in my guest room because my wife made me take it down to put up Christmas decorations,” McDowell said this week during the NASCAR Media Tour. “She was tired of it being in the main walkway.”
Last July, McDowell won his first NASCAR race in his 92nd Xfinity Series start, claiming the victory at Road America in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 Chevrolet. He led 24 of the race’s 48 laps and outran teammate Brendan Gaughan.
It remains McDowell’s only win in 309 starts over all three of NASCAR’s national series. But McDowell, who returns to the No. 95 owned by Leavine Family Racing, has no plans to keep the only trophy he’s earned since his first start in an Oct. 20, 2007 Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway.
When the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series treks to Phoenix International Raceway next week for a test, McDowell will use the opportunity to hand the trophy over his father to “store for a little while.”
“Trophies, to me, have never been significant,” McDowell said. “I’d rather have just the memory of being in Victory Lane and the pictures of the people you’re in Victory Lane with. The only trophy I have is that Road America trophy from my career. I’ve pretty much given away all of them, and I’m planning on giving away that one as well.”
Next month, five months after the biggest accomplishment of his NASCAR career, McDowell will begin his most significant season to date. With Leavine Family Racing in possession of a charter, McDowell is guaranteed to start every Cup Series race for the first time.
Before this year, the most he had started was 33 races in 2013. Last season, he started 31 while splitting races with Ty Dillon.
“It’s kind of a unique feeling,” said McDowell, whose first Cup start was in March 2008 at Martinsville for Michael Waltrip Racing. “I’ve run a lot of races, but not at a high level. Not at the level that I wanted to be at. So this is the first year where I feel like I’m in competitive equipment with the right people, the right parts, the right partners, to go out there and really show what we can do and do it full-time.
“Last year … It was pretty close to full-time, so it wasn’t a huge jump. But, to know that now you have a shot if you do win a race, to be in the (playoffs) and to do all those things that small teams strive to do, is definitely a challenge we look forward to.”
McDowell and his team have “high hopes” this season, especially after he earned two tops 10s last season. That included his first top 10 in a non-restrictor plate race when he placed 10th in the finale in Miami.
“We’ve done a really great job in the off-season, infrastructure-wise, and just really getting prepared for this year,” McDowell said. “We hope to pick up right where we left off, and to do that consistently now that we’re running full-time. To run in those low 20s and be in the ‘teens gives you an opportunity to steal a good result, and hopefully we’ll be able to do that every weekend.”