In NASCAR’s 75th year, there have been several parallels to its first couple of seasons.
There was Shane van Gisbergen’s milestone win at the Chicago street course, marking the first time that a driver has won in his first start in 60 years. There was also the return of North Wilkesboro Speedway, one of NASCAR’s oldest tracks that had been on the schedule since year one until just shy of year 50. Kyle Busch’s win at Auto Club Speedway meant he has won at least once in each of the last 19 straight seasons, breaking a record that was once held by The King himself, Richard Petty.
On Sunday (Aug. 13) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, another parallel came to happen at the hands of a driver who found victory lane for just the second time in his career.
Michael McDowell’s feel-good win for both himself and Front Row Motorsports wasn’t some lucky victory — he straight up thrashed the field in a race that went green for the final 77 laps. McDowell and his No. 34 crew had to be mistake-free the entire race if they wanted a shot at winning, and they did just that.
Amidst that, McDowell won his first career stage and led a race-high and career-high 54 laps of the 82-lap race — around 66% of the total laps. With the win, the No. 34 has six wins in NASCAR’s 75 years — two with McDowell, while four other drivers have one: Chris Buescher, David Ragan, Wendell Scott and Jim Roper.
However, most of the number’s wins had some luck attached to it. McDowell’s first win, the Daytona 500, came by virtue of a last-lap crash he was able to sneak through to steal the victory. Buescher’s win at Pocono Raceway in 2016 was weather-shortened and came by strategy after FRM left him out on the track with heavy fog rolling in that eventually ended the race.
Ragan’s win was storybook. His teammate David Gilliland hooked up with him at Talladega Superspeedway on the final lap of the 2013 spring race and rocketed to the front to take an upset 1-2 finish (FRM’s first victory).
And we all know Scott’s path to his first career win, the first in NASCAR’s history by a Black driver. He led late and ended up completing two extra laps as officials awarded the win to Buck Baker before later declaring Scott the winner after the scoring error was discovered.
Scott led 27 laps of that 200-lap race in Jacksonville, Florida. But that was not the most laps a car No. 34 had led before McDowell’s triumph on Sunday. That honor belonged to Roper — in NASCAR’s first race ever.
Yes, you read that right. The most laps a No. 34 had ever seen the front of a NASCAR Cup Series race was 2,737 races ago at Charlotte Speedway in 1949. Roper didn’t lead the most laps that day, but his 47 laps pacing the field (23.5% of the race) was the most for the No. 34 ever.
Until McDowell completely blew that stat out of the water Sunday.
And even Roper’s win had some luck with it. First, Bill Blair, the dominant car of the day, bowed out with engine trouble, handing Roper the lead. But he was then passed by Glenn Dunaway, who went on to win the race but failed post-race inspection and was disqualified. That handed second-place Roper the victory.
Sunday was the first time that the No. 34 had soundly beat down the rest of the field en route to victory. And who else to do that than a former start-and-park driver with 453 career starts in NASCAR’s premier series with just two wins to his name, driving for a team that also once start-and-parked every race.
And of course, a record was broken for a car number. A record that had stood since the literal beginning of NASCAR. You know what they say in NASCAR: Sometimes, everything just comes full circle.
About the author
Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. He co-authors Only Yesterday (Wednesdays) and Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the site's primary Truck Series reporter and writer, and contributes to SRX coverage, too. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is currently pursuing his master of journalism at Temple University. He is a theatre actor and fight choreographer-in-training outside of Frontstretch. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.
You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.
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