Michael McDowell was ecstatic after winning his first-ever NASCAR race over the weekend in what just happened to be the most prestigious race on the circuit: the Daytona 500.
He also was thankful.
McDowell, 0-for-357 in his 13 years of driving in the NASCAR Cup Series, won his first NASCAR race when he jumped from third to first following a wreck on the final lap.
McDowell, a Christian whose Twitter bio calls him a “follower of Jesus,” used the word “thankful” multiple times in post-race interviews.
“To get my first cup win at Daytona, it's unbelievable. I’m just so thankful,” he said. “... I always knew that if you just kept grinding that – you know one day everything will line up and it'll go right. But as you get further into it, you just don't know. So I'm just thankful – very thankful to everybody who made it possible.”
A few racing experts compared his upset win to then-underdog Trevor Bayne’s upset win in the 2011 Daytona 500. Like McDowell, Bayne also is a man of faith.
McDowell said he never lost confidence he would one day win a race. His faith, he said in the post-race interview, played a key role in keeping him optimistic.
Heading into this year’s Daytona 500, he had three Top 5 and 12 Top 10 finishes – but not a single victory.
“God just has a plan for each of us, and I've just never felt like it was time for me to stop [or] it was time for me to quit,” he said. “I just always felt like there's a win on the horizon. You just gotta keep grinding it out.”
McDowell, who is 36, began racing in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2008. He was 23 at the time.
"From the time I was a young age, I knew I wanted to be a race car driver,” he said. “I didn't know what that looked like or where it would be. My path was really open-wheel and road racing, and it just so happened that I got an opportunity to go stock car racing. I'm so glad I did, because the path that I was on, it would have been really tough to make it to the top. As a kid growing up I always dreamed of being a race car driver – but never thought about being a Daytona 500 champion.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Jared C. Tilton/Staff
Video courtesy: NASCAR on Fox
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.