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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2008 Driver Review: Michael McDowell

2008 Ride: No. 00 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
2008 Primary Sponsors: Aaron’s Dream Machine, Brain Cancer Action Week, Microsoft Small Business, Champion Mortgage, NAPA Auto Parts
2008 Owners: Michael Waltrip/Rob Kauffman
2008 Crew Chiefs: Bill Pappas (Feb. – July), Peter Sospenzo (July – Nov.)

Stats: 20 races, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s, 1 DNQ (Kansas), 40th in points
Best Finish: 20th, Richmond (September)

High Point: How about simply being alive? Michael McDowell will forever be remembered for walking away from one of the most violent-looking crashes in NASCAR history. Just moments after qualifying was restarted following cleanup for David Gilliland’s blown engine, the rookie took to the track at Texas Motor Speedway. During his second lap, McDowell got loose going into turn 1… and wasn’t able to save it. His Camry smacked the outside wall, breaking the SAFER barrier, then barrel-rolled into turn 2 before flipping over and over, coming to rest on the backstretch apron while his car went up in a plume of smoke. But after a few tense moments, McDowell emerged from his demolished Camry unscathed, actually waving to the crowd before walking into the awaiting ambulance.

Low Point: Just one week after setting off a nine-car wreck at Watkins Glen, McDowell found himself on the sidelines when he was dropped in favor of Mike Skinner for the August race at Michigan. At the time, the team felt Skinner would give them its best chance at getting back into the coveted Top 35 in the owner standings – but in hindsight, that was the beginning of the end of his tenure with MWR. While rejoining the No. 00 team three races later, after failing to qualify at Kansas McDowell was permanently shelved for Kenny Wallace, AJ Allmendinger, Mike Bliss and eventual full-time replacement Marcos Ambrose.

Summary: Just moments after he was named the driver for the No. 00 Camry in January, McDowell said, “[owner] Michael Waltrip said at a press conference last year that I was a candidate for the No. 00 Toyota Camry, but said that if I couldn’t get the job done, somebody else would.” At the time, the rookie probably didn’t think he was foreshadowing his future.

But as MWR continued to fight to find its footing in the Sprint Cup Series, McDowell found himself the odd man out. The team struggled to find sponsorship as the ARCA standout struggled to transition into racing’s top level, never starting higher than 18th or finishing better than 20th in any event. A crew chief change in midseason didn’t help, and after a summer filled with inconsistency and some nasty wrecks, McDowell was temporarily pulled from the seat – but the time off did nothing to improve his performance. In October, the team made a permanent decision, opting not to exercise the option on McDowell’s contract and removing him for the final seven races of the season.

Off-Track News: McDowell became a media darling after his wild ride at Texas. The Monday after the race he appeared on The Today Show, following it up with appearances on MSNBC, Inside Edition and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

2009 Outlook: After a turbulent rookie season, the former ARCA star finds himself on the sidelines so far for 2009. During the year, McDowell’s name was tossed about for rides with Petty Enterprises and Penske Racing, but none of those came to fruition. With a very limited number of seats – quality or not – available, the chances of seeing McDowell in the Cup Series are slim.

“I just want to race – I don’t care if it’s a Truck, Nationwide or a Cup car,” McDowell said after being relieved of his duties at MWR. “I’m ready for any of the above. You’re not going to be extremely picky or choosy at this point. I need a job.”

2007 Frontstretch Grade: N/A
2008 Grade: D

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