NASCAR driver Michael McDowell making a move in 2025

Going on seven years, Michael McDowell’s identity in the NASCAR Cup Series has become synonymous with the yellow No. 34 Ford for Front Row Motorsports. In 2025, everything will change for the Glendale-born racer.

In a rather surprising turn of events, McDowell became the first subject of significant silly season news in NASCAR’s top ranks with the announcement he’ll be joining Spire Motorsports as the full-time driver of the No. 71 Chevrolet under a multi-year agreement beginning next year.

“After meeting with the group and getting to know everybody at Spire and seeing what they're building — what they're trying to build — it felt like a really good fit,” McDowell told The Arizona Republic. “I know not everybody can fully understand all of it … but people will see. It'll just be a matter of time and they'll understand why I made the decision I made.”

NASCAR Cup Series driver Michael McDowell (34) waves to the crowd as he walks the stage during driver introductions for the Cup Series Championship race at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale on Nov. 5, 2023.
NASCAR Cup Series driver Michael McDowell (34) waves to the crowd as he walks the stage during driver introductions for the Cup Series Championship race at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale on Nov. 5, 2023.

Since entering the Cup Series in 2008, the Arizona journeyman has put together a widely respected career and become one of the most beloved underdog stories in the sport’s history.

Prior to making his second full-time start in 2018 — and first with Front Row Motorsports — McDowell had driven for five different teams over a 10-year span on a part-time basis. In addition to having limited opportunities, his chances to succeed were handicapped in competing for organizations that were smaller and mostly underfunded.

In joining Front Row, McDowell went from finishing 30th or worse on a weekly basis to challenging for top-20s. By virtue of his ability to maximize equipment and unrelenting commitment to craft, he’s now taken the Ford stable to what were seemingly inconceivable heights.

Over the last two seasons, McDowell’s asserted himself as a weekly contender for a top-10, and he’s qualified for the playoffs in two of his last three campaigns. Those appearances came courtesy of a historic victory in the 2021 Daytona 500 and a win at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year.

To say McDowell has been an integral part in helping build Front Row Motorsports into what it is today would be an understatement. Which is why the decision to move to Spire left many scratching their heads.

“For so many years, it looked like it wasn't working out,” McDowell said. “Then you just look at the last five (years) and they've been great. There's been a great trajectory, and I think that more than anything, I feel great.

“Now is a great opportunity for me to maximize on these opportunities, because there wasn't a lot early on in my career. I'm thankful that I have the runway to do it. I'm thankful that I am still performing well and performing at a high level.

“I get to enjoy being a part of building something and continuing that on the racetrack. It's taken me a long time to get here, so it's fun.”

For McDowell, one major factor in this decision was stability.

At 39 years old, McDowell is the fourth-oldest competitor among full-time drivers. Given the widespread uncertainty of up-and-coming talent, charters and sponsorship, he saw this as the perfect time to lock down some longevity in the sport.

“It felt like there was a great opportunity to be able to help (Spire) take it to the next level and to do that for many years to come,” McDowell said.”Having a multi-year opportunity in front of you — you know, a guy as young as me — it's important to have some stability.

“There's a lot of uncertainty right now in our sport. There's a great opportunity for me to grow and be a part of building something at Spire.”

Outside of essentially building FRM into what it is today, many were puzzled by McDowell’s decision being a somewhat lateral move.

Spire, established in 2018, has followed a similar path to Front Row, albeit on a less successful scale. Outside of a rain-shortened win in their sophomore season with Justin Haley, the Chevy team had a reputation for running near the back of the field.

Once the Next Gen car was introduced in 2022, Spire began to see an increase in on-track performance. As opposed to racing for 30th, McDowell’s future teammate Corey LaJoie began challenging for top-15s, and has now done so more frequently over the past year.

In many ways, McDowell will be assuming a familiar role in helping build a growing team. However, Spire has established a solid foundation and invested in the assets needed to succeed sooner rather than later.

Within the last year, they purchased Kyle Busch Motorsports’ NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series operations and have already tallied four wins for their developmental program. That’s on top of having a technical alliance with powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports and investing in top-tier resources and people — McDowell included.

“People are what make race cars go fast,” McDowell said. “It's all about people, and they've made the investment in people over the last few years. That's what's so hard about it is, you can want it all you want, but if you don't have the resources, the leadership, the vision, the ambition, the knowledge and all the things that it takes to do it, then it's just wishful thinking.”

Before McDowell makes his debut for Spire, he’ll look to end his seventh season with Front Row on a high note. Halfway to the playoffs, he sits well below the points cutoff and will likely need a third win to qualify for his third postseason.

While Ford teams have struggled in 2024, McDowell has shown speed. He scored his first career pole (two in total) at Atlanta Motor Speedway and a handful of top-10 finishes, earning the 40th of his career at Kansas Speedway.

Much like his goals with Front Row, the objectives remain the same for McDowell with Spire: Win races and contend for a championship.

“I wouldn't be making this move that I'm making if I didn't feel like we were going to contend for wins and contend for a championship,” McDowell said. “It's okay that everybody can't see that. I see it, and I'm thankful I get to be a part of building it and doing it.

“We all have a dream, right? But when you actually have those things in place, it's not just a dream. It's something that can actually happen. I think that they have all those things in place to make it happen.”

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Michael McDowell will give up Ford for a Chevrolet in 2025