Don’t Call it a Fluke: Glendale’s McDowell Dominates at Legendary Indianapolis

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

At eight years old, Michael McDowell sat in his go-kart at the Phoenix Kart Racing Association track in Glendale, daydreaming of the opportunity of racing at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He won world karting championships, joined the Road to Indy, and eventually had to put that dream aside to join the ranks of NASCAR.

Although it wasn’t on the prestigious Indianapolis 500 oval, McDowell still made history by winning on the Indy Road Course in dominant fashion against some of the best drivers in the world.

The Glendale native became the first Arizona-born driver to win the Daytona 500 after a dramatic conclusion in 2021 and earns his second-career NASCAR Cup Series victory today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Victorious at two of the most iconic and prestigious race tracks in the world.

Even though it was on the road course rather than the oval, McDowell (2023 NASCAR Road Course) joins Jimmy Bryan (1958 Indianapolis 500), Eddie Cheever Jr. (1998 Indianapolis 500), and Buddy Rice (2004 Indianapolis 500) as Arizona-born drivers to win a motor race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Beyond that, McDowell also joins a list of around two dozen drivers who have won at both Daytona International Speedway and Indianapolis on either their ovals or road courses. Some of the legendary names on that list include A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Dan Weldon, Jimmie Johnson, and Scott Dixon.

Alongside NASCAR’s regular talent, this year’s race at Indianapolis included one of the most decorated international fields in NASCAR history. Daniel Suarez (Mexico/seven-year Cup veteran), Shane Van Gisbergen (New Zealand/Australian Super Car Champion & NASCAR Chicago Winner), Brodie Kostecki (Australia/Current Australian Supercar Points Leader), Mike Rockenfeller (Germany/24 Hours of Le Mans Champion), Jenson Button (Great Britain/F1 Champion), and Kamui Kobayashi (Japan/24 Hours of Le Mans Champion) represented six different countries across the globe.

McDowell put down a stellar qualifying run to place him fourth on Sunday’s Verizon 200 starting grid. After a caution on lap three, the race would remain under green for the remainder of the race. McDowell claimed the lead on lap five and after two green flag pit-stop cycles, the 38-year-old would lead the final 30 laps and 54 of the race’s 82 total laps en route to an unforgettable victory at Indy.

A desperate Chase Elliott had to settle for a second-place finish and remains well below the NASCAR Playoff cutline with just two races remaining. Another driver below the cutline, Daniel Suarez would finish third with Tyler Reddick and Tucson-born Alex Bowman rounding out the top five. Bowman is also below the playoff cutline after missing races this season due to injury.

While some fans called McDowell’s Daytona 500 victory a fluke due to the nature of superspeedway racing, there is no denying the Arizona native’s talent with this dominant victory at Indianapolis. The win locks McDowell into the 2023 NASCAR Playoffs and qualifies him for his second career playoff appearance. He will have a chance to race for a championship that concludes just miles from where he grew up at Phoenix Raceway.

Born and raised in Glendale, McDowell grew up racing go-karts at the Phoenix Kart Racing Association track in Glendale, across the street from what is now Six Flags Hurricane Harbor. Now residing in North Carolina, McDowell gives back to the karting community as a minority owner of Trackhouse Motorplex in Mooresville, NC.

McDowell would eventually receive an invite to the world of stock car racing and earn his Cup Series debut in 2008 with Michael Waltrip Racing. Over the next eight years, McDowell would drive for nine different teams, fail to qualify for 24 races, and only finish in the top ten twice over that period.

It wasn’t until 2017 that McDowell acquired his first full-time season in the Cup Series with Leavine Family Racing and even scored a top-five finish. McDowell joined Bob Jenkins and Front Row Motorsports in 2018 and has solidified his talents with the small team. After all those years of grinding and being one of the hardest workers in the NASCAR garage, McDowell has made a habit of consistency with 18 top-tens and four top-fives in the past two seasons. Now hoisted in Michael’s trophy case are wins from two of the most prestigious tracks in all of racing.

McDowell has always performed well on NASCAR road courses and first flexed his road course muscle back in 2016 when he won at Road America in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for Richard Childress Racing, becoming the first Arizona-born driver to win in one of NASCAR’s national touring series. The Glendale native also owns four career ARCA Menards Series victories to his credit. In 2004, he found victory lane on the former Phoenix Raceway road course in the Pro Star Mazda Series en route to claiming the season championship.

McDowell now lives in Huntersville, NC with his wife, Jami, and their five children, Trace, Emma, Rylie, Lucas, and Isabella.

Phoenix Raceway will once again host NASCAR Championship Weekend in 2023, crowning four champions over three days. The Cup Series Championship will be Nov. 5 on NBC, and now, McDowell will have an opportunity to race his way into the championship event, only a trip down the Loop-101 from where he grew up.

NASCAR will stay on a road course next week and take on another track that McDowell can excel at, Watkins Glen International, before concluding the regular season at a track McDowell knows well, Daytona International Speedway. The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs begin September 2 at Darlington Speedway.