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 announces rule changes for 2023 season


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

1 Comment

CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.

NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

1 Comment

CONCORD, N.C. —  NASCAR announced Tuesday that it will not permit drivers to run against the wall to gain speed as Ross Chastain did in last year’s Martinsville Cup playoff race.

NASCAR made the announcement in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

MORE: NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events 

MORE: NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023

Chastain drove into the Turn 3 wall and rode it around the track at higher speed than the rest of the field, passing five cars in the final two turns to gain enough spots to make the championship race. NASCAR allowed the move to stand even though some competitors had asked for a rule change leading into the season finale at Phoenix last year.

NASCAR is not adding a rule but stressed that Rule covers such situations.

That rule states: “Safety is a top priority for NASCAR and NEM. Therefore, any violations deemed to compromise the safety of an Event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of Competitors, Officials, spectators, or others are treated with the highest degree of seriousness. Safety violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.”

NASCAR stated that the penalty for such a maneuver would be a lap or time penalty.

Chastain said he’s fine with being known for that move, which will never be repeated in NASCAR history.

“I’m proud that I’ve been able to make a wave that will continue beyond just 2022 or just beyond me,” Chastain told NBC Sports earlier this month about the move’s legacy. “There will be probably a day that people will learn about me because of that, and I’m good with that. I’m proud of it.

“I don’t think it will ever happen again. I don’t think it will ever pay the reward that it paid off for us that it did that day. I hope I’m around in 35 years to answer someone’s question about it. And I probably still won’t have a good answer on why it worked.”

The video of Chastain’s wall-hugging maneuver had 12.5 million views on the NBC Sports TikTok account within a week of it happening. Excluding the Olympics, the only other video that had had more views on the NBC Sports TikTok account to that point in 2022 was Rich Strike’s historic Kentucky Derby win. 

Formula 1 drivers Fernando Alonso, Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo all praised Chastain’s move at the time, joining a chorus of competitors throughout social media. 

NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash


NASCAR’s preseason non-points race, now known as the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, was born in 1979 with the idea of testing the sport’s fastest drivers and cars on one of racing’s fastest tracks — Daytona International Speedway.

The concept was driver vs. driver and car vs. car. No pit stops. Twenty laps (50 miles) on the Daytona oval, with speed and drafting skills the only factors in victory.

Originally, the field was made up of pole winners from the previous Cup season. In theory, this put the “fastest” drivers in the Clash field, and it also served as incentive for teams to approach qualifying with a bit more intensity. A spot in the Clash the next season meant extra dollars in the bank.

The race has evolved in crazy directions over the years, and no more so than last year when it was moved from its forever headquarters, the Daytona track, to a purpose-built short track inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

MORE: Toyota looking to expand its NASCAR presence

Over the decades, virtually everything about the race changed in one way or another, including the race length, eligibility requirements, format, calendar dates, sponsorship and title. From 1979-2020, the race was held on Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval and served as a sort of preview piece for the Daytona 500, scheduled a week later. In 2021, it moved to Daytona’s road course before departing for the West Coast last season.

Here’s a look at 10 historic moments in the history of the Clash:

NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 2022 — Few races have been as anticipated as last year’s Clash at the Coliseum. After decades in Daytona Beach, NASCAR flipped the script in a big way and with a big gamble, putting its top drivers and cars on a tiny temporary track inside a football stadium. Joey Logano won, but that was almost a secondary fact. The race was a roaring success, opening the door for NASCAR to ponder similar projects.

2. 2008 — How would Dale Earnhardt Jr. handle his move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports? The answer came quickly — in his first race. Junior led 46 of the 70 laps in winning what then was called the Budweiser Shootout, his debut for Hendrick. The biggest action occurred prior to the race in practice as Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch tangled on — and off — the track. Both were called to the NASCAR trailer, where the incident reportedly accelerated. Both received six-race probations.

3. 2012 — One of the closest finishes in the history of the Clash occurred in a race that produced a rarity — Jeff Gordon’s car on its roof. Kyle Busch and Gordon made contact in Turn 4 on lap 74, sending Gordon into the wall, into a long slide and onto his roof. A caution sent the 80-lap race into overtime. Tony Stewart had the lead on the final lap, but Kyle Busch passed him as they roared down the trioval, winning the race by .013 of a second.

MORE: Surveying key race dates for 2023

4. 1984 — A race that stands out in Ricky Rudd’s career, and not in a fun way. Neil Bonnett won the sixth Clash, but the video highlights from the day center on Rudd’s 15th-lap crash. He lost control of his car in Turn 4 and turned sideways. As Rudd’s car left the track, it lifted off the surface and began a series of flips before landing on its wheels, very badly damaged. Safety crews removed Rudd from the car. He suffered a concussion, and his eyes were swollen such that he had to have them taped open so he could race a few days later in a Daytona 500 qualifier.

5. 1980 — The second Clash was won by Dale Earnhardt, one of Daytona International Speedway’s masters. This time he won in unusual circumstances. An Automobile Racing Club of America race often shared the race day with the Clash, and that was the case in 1980. The ARCA race start was delayed by weather, however, putting NASCAR and track officials in a difficult spot with the featured Clash also on the schedule and daylight running out. Officials made the unusual decision of stopping the ARCA race to allow the Clash to run on national television. After Earnhardt collected the Clash trophy, the ARCA race concluded.

6. 1994 — Twenty-two-year-old Jeff Gordon gave a hint of what was to come in his career by winning the 1994 Clash. Gordon would score his first Cup point win later that year in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, but he also dazzled in the Clash, making a slick three-wide move off Turn 2 with two laps to go to get by Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan. He held on to win the race.

7. 2006 — Upstart newcomer Denny Hamlin became the first rookie to win the Clash. Tony Stewart, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, had the lead with four laps to go, but a caution stacked the field and sent the race into overtime. Hamlin fired past Stewart, who had issues at Daytona throughout his career, on the restart and won the race.

8. 2004 — This one became the duel of the Dales. Dale Jarrett passed Dale Earnhardt on the final lap to win by .157 of a second. It was the only lap Jarrett led in the two-segment, 70-lap race.

MORE: Legacy MC looking to make a leap forward

9. 1979 — The first Clash, designed by Anheuser-Busch to promote its Busch beer brand, drew a lot of attention because of its short length (20 laps) and its big payout ($50,000 to the winner). That paycheck looks small compared to the present, but it was a huge sum in 1979 and made the Clash one of the richest per-mile races in the world. Although the Clash field would be expanded in numerous ways over the years, the first race was limited to Cup pole winners from the previous season. Only nine drivers competed. Buddy Baker, almost always fast at Daytona, led 18 of the 20 laps and won by about a car length over Darrell Waltrip. The race took only 15 minutes.

10. 2020 — This seemed to be the Clash that nobody would win. Several huge accidents in the closing miles decimated the field. On the final restart, only six cars were in contention for the victory. Erik Jones, whose car had major front-end damage from his involvement in one of the accidents, won the race with help from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who was one lap down in another damaged car but drafted behind Jones to push him to the win.