Daytona 500 win puts Michael McDowell in his first national TV ad with


Whether winning the biggest race of the season with a last-lap pass or surviving a spectacular crash, the spotlight has found Michael McDowell in his lengthy NASCAR career.

But the Front Row Motorsports driver rarely has hunted for the spotlight and the accompanying opportunities to embrace fame.

“I’m not out hustling trying to get on TV shows and movies,” McDowell told NBC Sports in a recent interview. “But I also understand the business of it. And we have an incredible opportunity right now to gain traction and build momentum with our partners and add that value that will last a long time. I’m not trying to get too famous too quickly, but I’m also trying to do what I can to add that value for myself and our team.”

That soon will become evident in a fresh way for McDowell and one of his sponsors, The aftermarket auto parts retailer announced Monday that McDowell will be the centerpiece of a new advertising campaign, including its first national TV commercial with the No. 34 Ford driver who opened the season with the first Cup victory in his 358th start.

Though McDowell was in the national headlines as a 2008 rookie (because of a terrifying qualifying wreck at Texas Motor Speedway), this will be his first national TV commercial. Since his Daytona 500 victory two months ago, he has grown accustomed to the attention and being recognized “everywhere now” while traveling the circuit.

Michael McDowell Daytona commercial
Michael McDowell smiles during a commercial shoot for that was shot in Huntersville, North Carolina, last month.

“It’s so crazy,” McDowell, 36, said. “It’s not like I’m new to the sport. I’ve been around a long time. It’s almost like your rookie season again where of all these people are learning who you are for the first time.”

To launch the ad campaign (which will feature a humorous commercial for TV and the story of McDowell’s inspirational career arc for its digital and social platforms), has added the May 2 race at Kansas Speedway as a primary sponsor of McDowell’s Fusion.

After joining the team last year at Darlington Raceway in NASCAR’s first two races back during the pandemic, and Front Row had been negotiating on a sponsorship extension for a few months. The company finalized an expanded 2021 sponsorship with the team on the day after McDowell’s Feb. 14 victory in the season opener.

Michael McDowell Daytona commercial“When he won the Daytona 500, it was, ‘He’s in our next commercial,’ ” Houman Akhavan, the chief marketing officer of, told NBC Sports. “It was so evident and crystal clear to me to take it to the next level. He was already a brand ambassador for us in a lot of content we created.

“But what better way to cement the relationship and give a thank you back to the team. For him to win the most coveted trophy, I couldn’t have thought of a more deserving person.”

The sponsorship renewal also includes the Aug. 28 regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway and the Sept. 26 first-round playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – in which McDowell is all but guaranteed of being among the 16 drivers running for the championship.

Ranked 13th in points after a third-place finish Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, McDowell has two top fives and four top 10s through 10 races – both tying career bests for a full year.

The 2021 season already has been a “dream come true” for the Phoenix, Arizona, native, who is in his 14th season of racing in NACAR’s premier series but said “I’ve always felt this is year to year because you don’t have this big brand.

“You don’t have this national presence, and you’re not winning races or winning championships,” he said. “So you know that it’s very easy for you to be replaced. So I think now there’s just this sense of growing and getting these partnerships in place so we can continue this success, rather than the survival mode that I feel like I’ve been in for so many years.

“I feel a part of Front Row. I feel we’re building something we’re growing as a team. Not just because of the win but the top 10s and top 15s. We are running so much better now than we have over the last few years.”

It wasn’t results that initially attracted to McDowell. The Internet search-focused company has worked on building its brand awareness since going through “an aggressive consolidation” of several websites two years ago, Akhavan said.

It was attracted to NASCAR because the consecutive races at Darlington Raceway offered millions of viewers as the first large-scale sporting events on network TV since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) put much of the world on pause a year ago.

“The NASCAR fan base loves cars, and our mission for is to get drivers back on the road,” Akhavan said. “There are great parallels between the fan base and what we offer. We wanted to get into NASCAR, and the excitement and allure of our branding on a car at 200 mph is what attracted us. That was a relationship built in the middle of a pandemic.”

Though it did four races as a primary sponsor last year, Akhavan and other executives still have yet to meet McDowell in person because COVID-19 protocols have limited garage access. Based in Southern California, Akhavan is hoping he and other company reps will be able to attend the Las Vegas race this fall.

But they already have a strong connection to McDowell, who joined a “town hall” with a few hundred employees on Zoom after the 2020 season to tell his story.

NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500
Michael McDowell celebrates after winning the 63rd annual Daytona 500 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

“We couldn’t think of anyone better than Michael McDowell in all of NASCAR,” Akhavan said. “The family values he represents. Very personable, approachable. Great sense of humor.

“It’s an inspirational story, Michael McDowell’s career, the crash at Texas. Most people would throw in the hat, but for him to come back and never give up. It parallels to our brand. We have this grit and never quit attitude. That’s driven us to build back the business and be part of this turnaround story. I see parallels in Michael’s story to not give up and improve consistently and always focus on dreams.” also managed to turn a negative into a positive when McDowell tangled with Bubba Wallace in last year’s All-Star Race warmup at Bristol Motor Speedway. After Wallace dropped his bumper at McDowell’s hauler, the team auctioned it off. submitted the winning bid of more than $20,000 and matched it with a donation the Victory Junction Gang Camp.

Akhavan said the company also was pleased by some socially conscious moves by NASCAR last year (such as banning the Confederate flag).

“We’re very supportive of the changes NASCAR has been taking,” he said. “We’re super excited to see the likes of Michael Jordan and Pit Bull (as part team owners). It just gives more validation to the sport. It also played a role to see Michael Jordan, one of the greatest athletes in all of history, really give his seal of approval for NASCAR. It’s incredible NASCAR was under a magnifying glass and had to step up, and they did a lot to make that happen. We believe in inclusion, and they’ve really driven that forward.”

McDowell’s Daytona 500 victory has been a driving force for Front Row Motorsports. During a recent episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, general manager Jerry Freeze said the two-car team owned by Bob Jenkins is the most financially secure in its decade-plus history.

Its third victory (after David Ragan in 2013 at Talladega and Chris Buescher in 2016 at Pocono Raceway) is the most important and not just because of prestige. Freeze said Daytona will guarantee millions in charter payouts over the next three years.

The team also has begun ordering new cars for the second half of the season (despite the arrival of the NextGen in 2022), hoping to take advantage of McDowell’s playoff run.

Perhaps even more impressive than his Daytona 500 victory was McDowell’s sixth at Homestead-Miami Speedway – the first top 10 on a 1.5-mile speedway in Front Row’s history.

“Obviously, the result wasn’t as big, but the confidence was, absolutely,” McDowell said about Homestead. “That was what made me feel and our team feel our equipment and our program is here. We can do this. We know the ingredients are there, we just have to hit it everywhere. And that’s hard to do.

NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube
Michael McDowell has four top 10s and two top fives in 10 races this season, tying his career bests (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

“Our sport is so competitive. But it gave us the confidence we have what we need to be competitive. I don’t feel like we’re a fluke, but I also feel like we’re going to have to work really hard to keep this level of competitiveness and momentum up.”

Akhavan said the team’s improvement has been a pleasant surprise for, which “didn’t have a blank check” to enter NASCAR as a public company trying to maximize profits. “We couldn’t base it on number of wins,” he said of aligning with Front Row. “They’re a midlevel team and don’t have unlimited budgets, but we could see it was a passionate team that was reinvesting. One of our key value propositions is to do more with less. There’s no better example than Front Row.

“It was a little bit of a leap of faith that definitely worked out.”

McDowell is hoping the team will continue to attract sponsors willing to take the same chances and said the opportunities have multiplied since Daytona – both for him and Front Row.

“Those conversations definitely change when you’re talking about winning the Daytona 500 and the exposure that came with it and will continue to come with it throughout the year,” he said. “It definitely is a game-changer winning the Daytona 500 and the magnitude of what it does for our partners and team.

“It’s really blown my mind how big it really is.”

Michael McDowell Daytona commercial
Michael McDowell on set during a commercial shoot for

NASCAR fines Ty Gibbs $75,000 for pit road incident at Texas


NASCAR fined Ty Gibbs $75,000 and docked him 25 points for door-slamming Ty Dillon on pit road during last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Crew members from other teams were nearby when Gibbs hit Dillon’s car, causing it to swerve. No crew members or officials were hit.

NASCAR has made it a priority that drivers are not to cause contact that could injured crew members or officials on pit road. NASCAR also penalized Gibbs 25 Cup driver points and docked 23XI Racing 25 car owner points for the No. 23 Cup car that Gibbs drives.

NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin


NASCAR has docked William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution in last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Byron drops from third in the playoff standings to below the cutline heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe moves up to hold the final transfer spot with 3,041 points. Austin Cindric is the first driver outside a transfer spot with 3,034 points. Byron is next at 3,033 points.

Hendrick Motorsports was docked 25 owner points as well.

Hendrick Motorsports stated it would appeal the penalty.

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart argued and questioned NASCAR for not putting Hamlin back in second place — where he was before Byron hit him — and also questioned Byron not being penalized.

“I guess we can just wreck each other under caution,” Hamlin said after the race.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told reporters after the race that series officials did not penalize Byron because they did not see the incident. 

“When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our equipment,” Miller said. “The William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing, we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass.

“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green.”

Kurt Busch ‘hopeful’ he can return from concussion this year

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kurt Busch said Tuesday he remains “hopeful” he will recover from a concussion in time to race again before the end of the NASCAR Cup season.

The 2004 Cup champion has been sidelined since he crashed July 23 during qualifying at Pocono Raceway. He’s so far missed 10 races – both Ty Gibbs and Bubba Wallace have driven the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing since Busch was injured – and withdrew his eligibility to participate in the playoffs.

“I’m doing good. Each week is better progress and I feel good and I don’t know when I will be back, but time has been the challenge. Father Time is the one in charge on this one,” Busch said.

There are six races remaining this season and 23XI co-owner Denny Hamlin said the team has contingency plans for Busch’s recovery and is not pressuring the 44-year-old to get back in the car. Busch is under contract at 23XI through next season with an option for 2024.

Hamlin said this past weekend at Texas that Busch has a doctor’s visit scheduled in early October that could reveal more about if Busch can return this season.

Busch has attended a variety of events to stimulate his recovery and enjoyed an evening at the rodeo over the weekend. But his visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday for its 10th annual honoring of Breast Cancer Awareness Month was Busch’s first official appearance as a NASCAR driver since his injury.

He attended for the second consecutive year as part of his “Window of Hope” program in which all the window nets on the Cup cars will be pink meshing in next week’s race on The Roval at Charlotte. Busch credited the Toyota Performance Center at TRD’s North Carolina headquarters for helping his recovery and getting him out to events again.

“I feel hopeful. I know I have more doctor visits and distance to go, and I keep pushing each week,” Busch said. “And TPC, Toyota Performance Center, has been a group of angels with the workouts and the vestibular workouts, different nutrition as well and different supplements and things to help everything rebalance with my vision, my hearing. Just my overall balance in general.”

He said his vision is nearly 20/20 in one eye, but his other eye has been lagging behind in recovery. Busch also said he wasn’t sure why he was injured in what appeared to be a routine backing of his car into the wall during a spin in qualifying.

NASCAR this year introduced its Next Gen car that was designed to cut costs and level the playing field, but the safety of the spec car has been under fire since Busch’s crash. Drivers have complained they feel the impact much more in crashes than they did in the old car, and a rash of blown tires and broken parts has plagued the first four races of the playoffs.

Busch said his concussion “is something I never knew would happen, as far as injury” and likened his health battle to that of the breast cancer survivors who aided him in painting the pit road walls at Charlotte pink for next week’s race.

“Each situation is different. It’s similar to a breast cancer survivor. Not every story is the same, not every injury is the same,” Busch said. “It’s not like a broken arm and then you get the cast taken off and can go bench press 300 pounds. It’s a process. I don’t know what journey I’m on, but I’m going to keep pushing.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin returns to first place


Four races into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and drivers who are eligible to win the championship remain 0-for-4 in pursuit of race wins.

Tyler Reddick became winner No. 4 on that list Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

And now we go to Talladega Superspeedway, where there is potential for drivers from the far back end of the field to emerge victorious, given the impact of drafting and, more significantly, wrecking.

Sunday’s tire-exploding, wall-banging, car-wrestling craziness at Texas Motor Speedway jumbled the playoff standings again, and the same is true for the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, which see a new leader in Denny Hamlin.

MORE: Winners and losers at Texas

Hamlin could be a busy guy the rest of the season. His potential retaliation list grew Sunday with the addition of William Byron after they had a major disagreement.

Here’s how the rankings look in the middle of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Denny Hamlin (No. 3 last week) — Despite everything — the tires, the wrecks, the hassle, the weather and a brouhaha with William Byron, Hamlin finished 10th Sunday and is sixth in the playoff standings entering Talladega. He has the best average finish — 5.75 — in the playoff races. Unless his “list” gets in the way, Hamlin might be ready to seriously challenge for his first championship.

2. Kyle Larson (No. 4 last week) — Larson led 19 laps at Texas and probably should have led more with one of the race’s best cars. Now fourth in points, he figures to be a factor over the final two weeks of the round.

3. Chase Elliott (No. 2 last week) — Elliott was not a happy camper after smashing the wall because of a tire issue and riding a flaming car to a halt. He finished 32nd.

4. Joey Logano (No. 6 last week) — Logano was chasing down winner Tyler Reddick in the closing laps at Texas. He jumps to first in the playoff standings and gains two spots in NBC’s rankings.

5. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron might be No. 1 on Denny Hamlin’s list; here he slides in at No. 5.

6. Christopher Bell (No. 1 last week) — Bell had a rotten Sunday in Texas, crashing not once but twice with tire issues and finishing 34th, causing a precipitous drop on the rankings list.

7. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain’s team played the tires and the cautions right and probably deserved better than a 13th-place finish Sunday.

8. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Mr. Winless (except in All-Star dress) rolls on. A fourth-place run (and 29 laps led) Sunday keeps him relevant.

9. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe’s Texas run started poorly but ended nicely with a fifth-place run.

10. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick Sunday became the only driver not named Chase Elliott with more than two race wins this year. Now totaling three victories, he got his first oval win at Texas.

Dropped out: Alex Bowman (No. 10 last week).