McDowell Wins, Daytona 500 Review, and A Reflection on Speedweeks - AJ's Thoughts

 

(Photo Credit : Review Journal of Las Vegas)

McDowell Wins BIG

As much as I love American stock car racing, there are races that are so bland we may never mention them again in a social setting. Other events stand out in our hearts and we talk about them every chance we get. This year's running of the 'Great American Race' is a story that we will always remember.  Expect to see videos of McDowell cheering with the fans at the start finish line, and the wild last lap of the 2021 Daytona 500 forever. 

He's done it. It took him a long time, but Michael McDowell has won at NASCAR's greatest stage.

While the race itself is being labeled as an underdog win, a small amount of research is all it takes to realize that the pieces have been there for the #34 team to get this win for some time now. Ford has shown consistent speed on the large tracks for years. Front Row Motorsports has won and recorded several top 5's at Daytona and Talladega in the current generation car. Plus, McDowell is a common threat for fantasy league participants, and media predictions every time we hit the high banks. So why is this race so special?

The answer is McDowell himself.,,, not the driver, but the man. 

There are few competitors in the sport that can keep driving in NASCAR despite average success. McDowell's dedication and loyalty has given him the opportunity to be a mainstay. Outside of the car, he is a convicted Christian racer and has spent his time serving Christ and being a steward to the other drivers. His influence has reinforced the religious beliefs of people within the world of motorsports as well as introducing religion to those who had not been believers. In addition to his spirituality, McDowell has been a mentor to younger drivers. The driver roster in general has shown a true love and care for McDowell and he has been a quiet ambassador to the sport for many years despite only being in his 30's. 

He has chased success in NASCAR's premiere series for nearly 14 years. He has competed in sports car and other stock car racing outside of his cup career too, but for 14 years his name has been on the entry list at the most prestigious level of racing. Through a career that has allowed him to race for 10 teams, and four manufacturers, he settled with Front Row Motorsports and Ford in 2018 and has improved his performance each season. 

The teams he has raced for aren't typically recognized as top-tier. He outperforms expectations most weeks by taking good care of his equipment and works hard to continue growing Front Row. The win has now put Front Row in the playoffs for the second time. (Chris Buescher 2016) I'd like to hope this is a wonderful surge of energy and a newfound chapter of success for the driver from Arizona.

Race Review 

The race started and ended in calamity, and I'm appreciative that  no driver was injured. After a lengthy rain delay, we saw a race that was primarily dominated by Daytona expert Denny Hamlin. A total of 13 different leaders led at least one lap, including the race winner who only led the checkered flag lap. 

The event was shown late on television and will go down as one of the smallest viewing audiences on FOX due to the delay and late evening restart. Their broadcast overall was remarkable all things considered. I was appreciative of the efforts of their social media teams, they covered nearly every minute of the rain delay online, while providing hourly updates on their network coverage. In between the live update portions, FOX aired interviews, racing highlights, and their famous documentary chronicling the movie Days of Thunder. 

One thing I didn't particularly care for was their new graphic suite that included each driver's likeness being promoted as a animated super hero. No complaints, not necessarily my taste...although I get it. When their marketing theme for the 2021 season is ''greatest-year-ever'', they gotta try to touch base with an all-ages audience. 

Speaking of a broad audience, the new short film from Toyota followed a young black female driver who is inspired by driver Darrell Wallace's career and push for a more inclusive, justified world. I was proud of the new ad series and loved that it was the brand they continued to promote throughout the program. Their side-by-side coverage known as 'All-Out' broadcasting was also a success. Fans missed almost no green flag action in this one. 

My biggest critique came to me out of respect for the die-hard fans. The post-race coverage did not include an interview with Michael McDowell in victory lane which I certainly thought was unusual. They went off air somewhat abruptly, but it was just after 1 in the morning local time. I'm excited to see more media revolving around McDowell and his team as we return to Daytona this weekend for the road course. 

I was able to tune in to SirisuXM radio during the event's rain delay as well. Claire B. Lang's coverage was wonderful. She used her trust with the drivers to ask them questions that aren't usually covered. I admired most her commitment to her interview with Corey LaJoie. LaJoie was in the Motor Coach lot, which is notorious for dropped cell phone calls and his phone repeatedly cut out. She painted a wonderful painting to the ears of the casual fan tuning in for the first time, filling in the blanks in areas he was unable to be heard. To the long-time fan, it reinforced our love for her. 

Between the social media elements, driver interaction at the track (and away...a la Chase Briscoe and Ross Chastain's food runs), television, and radio coverage, this was one of the best races overall I've witnessed in a long time. To accomplish so much while following awkward guidelines, poor weather, and evolving schedules. Kudos to EVERYONE involved. 


Reflection on Speed Weks

For some fans, Speed weeks is the Daytona 500. For others, it is a total of 3 races..the Truck, Xfinity, and Cup events. To me, Speed Weeks consists of pre-season media, the hangar shoot, the Rolex 24, Clash, Duels, ARCA, Trucks, Xfinity, Cup, and the post-500 media frenzy, amongst even other things that aren't listed. Personally, I would typically even include the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction typically held in January. 

This year's Speed Weeks had to fight hard to make sure that they earned the trust of fans spending their hard-earned money to attend events. FOX and NBC covered the sport well over the month for those who were unable to visit in person. This is a Speed Weeks to remember. Each race was better as the week went on. 

I'm eagerly awaiting the next pieces of the 2021 racing season. FOX network may just be right, though...it might be 'The Greatest Racing Season Ever'.