Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Did Michael McDowell Make the Right Decision Leaving Front Row for Spire?

The first domino of silly season for the 2025 NASCAR Cup Series season has fallen. Michael McDowell will depart Front Row Motorsports for Spire Motorsports.

McDowell has been with Front Row for seven years. He has notched two victories and made two playoff appearances.

Yet the 39-year-old veteran chose Spire, an organization that is fielding three full-time entries for the first time this season.

As such, Joy Tomlinson and Mark Kristl debate whether McDowell made the right decision in this week’s 2-Headed Monster.

See also
Michael McDowell Moving to Spire in 2025

McDowell Will Benefit From a Change in Scenery

McDowell has been a strong performer over the past two years, but overall, he can benefit from a change of scenery.

Since he joined Front Row, he’s only had two top-20 points finishes. In the Next Gen era, he has one win, four top fives and 23 top 10s in 85 races.

Diving further into those numbers, McDowell is tied for the least amount of top fives and had the fewest top 10s of the playoff drivers. He also had the fewest lead-lap finishes, showing that while he impressively piloted his racecar – he was borderline on making the playoffs on points alone – FRM was not bringing him fast racecars right out of the hauler nor improved his racecar throughout races.

McDowell will surpass 500 Cup starts in the penultimate race of the 2024 season. He is experienced and has fared decently in the Next Gen era.

Enter Spire, a growing organization. The team has two top-10 running NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series entries with three wins. Yes, it bought Kyle Busch Motorsports, but Rajah Caruth’s growth this season is a testament to Spire.

Unfortunately, Spire has not experienced the same success in its Cup program with a pair of rookies and Corey LaJoie piloting its racecars.

McDowell joining Spire is a win for both parties. For McDowell, Spire’s amount of sponsorship probably yields him the largest salary of his career. At age 39, a hefty payday, when he might only run competing full time for another decade at the most, sounds too good to pass up.

I’m sure the organization’s Truck success also caught his eye. If this team can improve its Truck program, there’s potential for it to likewise improve its Cup program. As an experienced driver who has piloted underfunded racecars, McDowell knows what it takes to improve a team overall. His input will be vital.

You know what else McDowell brings to Spire? Wins on his resume, something LaJoie and the two rookies lack in their Cup careers. Rookie Carson Hocevar has a high ceiling, though, after making the Truck Series’ Championship 4 in 2023.
McDowell can serve as a mentor to Hocevar. He’s technically old enough to be his father. McDowell has competed full-time in Cup for eight straight seasons, and his knowledge of how to race those racetracks can help Hocevar improve. Even though the racecar has changed, the racetracks remain the same. Pocono Raceway is still known as the Tricky Triangle, for example.

Additionally, McDowell can see this opportunity as his chance to reach the next level in Cup. If he has less than 10 years left in the sport, why not maximize it?

This year, however, has been abysmal for the driver of the No. 34. His block gone wrong at Talladega Superspeedway was his best shot to make the playoffs to date. Instead, he’s 26th in points, 102 points below the cut line. It will take a win to make the playoffs at this point. How many opportunities does he have to make it, though? The Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course is gone, and while two road courses are on the regular-season schedule, there are other talented drivers at those tracks. Yes, McDowell is quick at drafting-style racetracks, but if bad luck strikes, his race could be over in a split second.

When you’re struggling, you want to do something to fix those struggles. Spire is that fix. And for Spire, McDowell can provide that veteran leadership to help Hocevar grow as a driver, the team to improve overall and his shot to contend for wins more often and have better odds of winning the championship. – Mark Kristl

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Did You Notice?: Noah Gragson's Comeback Story Amid Stewart-Haas Racing Circus

Why Leave a Good Thing?

McDowell did not make the right decision to leave Front Row Motorsports for Spire.

Why leave the best situation that he’s been in for something where he doesn’t know what could happen? 

“But Ford as a whole hasn’t been very fast this year.”

Poppycock. Ford drivers have shown some speed; they just haven’t found a way to win yet. Look at what happened last week at Kansas Speedway: Chris Buescher lost by a thousandth of a second to Kyle Larson. At Atlanta Motor Speedway, Ryan Blaney was ousted by Daniel Suarez in a three-lane photo finish. 

If Ford didn’t have any speed, then why was Buescher able to lead 54 laps on Sunday (May 5)?

But let’s look specifically at McDowell; has he had any pace this year? Maybe not during the length of the races themselves, but the team sure has brought speed off the hauler. McDowell’s earned two poles this year and has started seven of 12 races in the top 10 (and nine in the top 15).

As far as the races go, he’s earned three top 10s so far this year, at Atlanta, Phoenix Raceway and Kansas. McDowell was 17th in points after Bristol Motor Speedway, but a streak of bad luck set him way back. Now he’s 26th, but that doesn’t show how well the No. 34 was running this year.

Look at Talladega Superspeedway, for example. McDowell was on his way to battling Brad Keselowski for the win until he made a bad block on the No. 6. If you just look at the replay, you think it was all on McDowell. However, if you listened to the radio, McDowell’s spotter had told him to move down. Either way, it could’ve been a much different result had McDowell not crashed.

Let’s not forget that he also has two wins, including an outright victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last year. He flat-out beat everyone, including Chase Elliott and Christopher Bell, after leading 54 laps. 

Plus, he’s a Daytona 500 champion. Granted, it happened in the final year of the Gen 6 car, but he still was with FRM. 

Also, in the first year of the Next Gen car in 2022, he earned two top fives and 12 top 10s, which was so noticeable that McDowell’s crew chief, Blake Harris, was picked up by Hendrick Motorsports. A large points penalty after Pocono Raceway was the main thing that kept him out of the playoffs, as it sent him from 21st in the standings entering Pocono to 26th after.

Front Row has a technical alliance with Team Penske and has a Tier 1 Ford program, and while no Ford has found victory lane yet, it seems rather sudden to just up and leave an alliance with a top-tier team. What if Spire won’t have any alliance with Hendrick Motorsports? Yes, Spire is improving, and yes, it has a win from several years ago, but it’s nowhere close to FRM in terms of performance. It’s quite baffling that McDowell would choose to go to an organization that’s earned five top fives and seven top 10s since 2022. Compare that to Front Row, where its drivers have collected five top fives and 32 top 10s in the same time span.

Besides, McDowell isn’t getting any younger. Why go somewhere new, rather than retire at a team where he’s been for several years? I’m not saying he should retire now, but just continue racing for Front Row through the future. I’m sure he has his reasons, but it just doesn’t make sense to me. – Joy Tomlinson

About the author

Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor and involved with photos, social media and news editing. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.

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Christopher

I agree with the opinion that it is a bad move. Spire is years away from being a contender for wins.

John

McDowell will likely be good for Spire. For him its more of a lateral move and not a step up. Facilities and expertise are now resident at Spire, but that large and organizational change will take a little time. If money was the issue at Spire, They’d have sold the 3rd charter to Trackhouse and replaced LaJoie with McDowell (which is what I truly expected). McDowell’s asking price may have been too much for FRM to swallow. Rookie Hocevar should not be able to make LaJoie look that bad week after week and with only a year left on his current deal (I think), If McDowell makes a big splash with Spire, I’d expect LaJoie T-Shirts to become collector’s items.

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