DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Michael McDowell and Trevor Bayne became linked in the NASCAR community more than a decade ago by both a strong friendship and a deep Christian faith.
Early Monday morning, however, the pair became linked by another shared title: Daytona 500 winner.
McDowell drove to the victory in the 63rd edition of The Great American Race after a wild finish at Daytona Int’l Speedway, leading only the final lap for his first NASCAR Cup Series win in 358 starts.
In some ways, McDowell’s score stirred up memories of Bayne’s stunning triumph 10 years earlier.
Bayne, from Knoxville, Tenn., won the 2011 Daytona 500 in his second Cup Series start, driving for the legendary Wood Brothers Racing team in their iconic red-and-white No. 21 Ford.
It was Bayne’s first victory at NASCAR’s top level and thrust the then-20-year-old into the spotlight instantaneously.
McDowell, a product of Phoenix, Ariz., went winless for 357 Cup Series starts before his breakthrough victory on Sunday. He was wheeling the No. 34 Ford for Front Row Motorsports, a team owned by Tennessee businessman Bob Jenkins that still has hopes of becoming a NASCAR powerhouse.
The two moments, a decade apart, reflected what some might call opposite sides of the same coin.
Bayne’s Daytona 500 victory was looked at as the catalyst for his tenure in the NASCAR Cup Series, while McDowell’s victory came as a reward for his perseverance after years of trials and tribulations.
However, the common thread that connected both victories was clear: McDowell and Bayne were both underdog contenders who upset the established superstars and claimed Daytona 500 glory.
It was a realization that had McDowell both smiling and reflective when asked about his longtime friend by SPEED SPORT during the Daytona 500 winner’s press conference following the race.
“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” McDowell said. “Trevor is such a close friend of mine and such a talented guy. Even when you look at that, it’s like, how do I keep getting opportunities and a Daytona 500 champion, a guy that’s won races and has a résumé that’s a lot better than mine, is making coffee right now? It just goes to show that God has a plan for each of us and I just never felt like it was time for me to stop or that it was time for me to quit.
“I just always felt like there was a win on the horizon and I needed to keep grinding it out.”
Ironically, when Bayne won his Daytona 500, McDowell failed to qualify in a car owned by Phil Parsons.
When race day rolled around, the Front Row Motorsports No. 34 ended up third with David Gilliland behind Bayne and Carl Edwards. Ten years later, the various loose threads all came back together.
“I’ll never forget that Daytona 500, just like I’ll never forget this one,” McDowell admitted. “I’ve missed two of them in my career, and when you drive home before the race takes off … it’s gut-wrenching. Those moments that you have when you miss it by one or two spots, like we saw with Ty Dillon this week, I’ve been in that spot and I know what that feels like. I know what it feels like to go home, to make it, and now to win it. Those going-home moments are real character building.
“You don’t want to experience those moments, but they make you hungry not to be in that spot again and make you appreciate the successes when they do happen,” McDowell added. “Because of that, I do feel like this brings everything full circle … and Trevor and I have both been a part of that story.”
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