McDowell to Take Over #00 Toyota Camry at Martinsville Wednesday night, sitting on a stage with racing royalty, 23-year-old Michael McDowell heard the words he thought were only audible in his dreams as Michael Waltrip announced his organization's 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver lineup.
Waltrip officially revealed that the Arizona native will drive the #00 Toyota Camry for Michael Waltrip Racing, beginning on March 30th at Martinsville Speedway, joining MWR's driver lineup of Waltrip, Dale Jarrett and David Reutimann.
Reutimann will start the season in the #00 Toyota Camry while Jarrett finishes out his career in the #44 UPS Toyota Camry, running the first five races on the schedule. Jarrett will turn the #44 UPS ride over to Reutimann and McDowell will fill the seat vacated in the #00 by Reutimann starting at Martinsville.
"We are proud to have Michael join our organization as we field three full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams and a Nationwide Series team for a second year in a row," Waltrip said. "To be honest, at first I was apprehensive only because I know how difficult the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is and what challenges it presents. After testing with Michael, I learned firsthand that he is intense, knowledgeable of racing and more importantly he was fast at all of our test sessions. Those factors set my mind at ease. I feel like he will do a great job and it is our job to prepare the best cars we can for him and provide the best opportunity to hone his driving talents."
McDowell, a four-time race winner, nine-time pole-sitter and Rookie of the Year in the 2007 ARCA RE/MAX Series, has been sharpening and showcasing his skills with extensive testing in preparations to drive the #00 Toyota Camry. McDowell will take into account everything he has learned from testing as he begins to write his first chapter in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with Waltrip's guidance.
"It is humbling that I will be able to compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with Michael Waltrip Racing and Toyota," McDowell said. "With Michael making the announcement tonight, it makes it official and solidifies everything that I have worked so hard for in my career with help from friends and family and especially Rob Finlay. Rob has been with me each step of the way and has supported me. He stood up for me and said, 'Hey, this guy can do it.' That led to me competing for the ARCA RE/MAX Series championship with Eddie Sharp Racing. Through knowledge of the business and his financial support over the years, he has helped propel me to the pinnacle of our sport."
The ascent to a Sprint Cup opportunity may seem quick to most observers, but not to McDowell.
"Even though I am only 23, it feels like I've been doing this a long time," McDowell said. "I started racing professionally in 2003 and I've been hard at it ever since. It has not been a long career, but it has been five years of trying to put deals together and trying to make it from one series to the next without having money."
Times are changing and McDowell is not letting this newfound opportunity pass him by.
"Michael said at a press conference last year that I was a candidate for the #00 Toyota Camry, but said that if I couldn't get the job done somebody else would," McDowell said. "Sitting in the audience with the media, I will never forget that. It pushes me even more to be prepared and I'm glad he said it. It's game time and there is no time to celebrate this opportunity. It's time to get serious."
McDowell is extremely focused and also serious about being a 2008 Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender joining a formidable class, which includes Dario Franchitti, Regan Smith, Sam Hornish Jr., Patrick Carpentier and Jacques Villeneuve.
"There is so much talent in the rookie class this year," McDowell said. "It's going to be tough, but I'm up for the challenge. I'm anxious to see how I stack up and what I've got to work on as a Raybestos Rookie in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series."
Last year with Eddie Sharp Racing, McDowell won Rookie of the Year honors in the ARCA RE/MAX Series, four races, nine poles, and led the most laps en route to finishing second in the championship standings to eight-time champion Frank Kimmel.
"Driving for Eddie Sharp Racing bridged a relationship with Michael Waltrip Racing," McDowell said. "It opened a door for me to get to know Cal (Wells III), Ty (Norris) and Michael. I was able to drive a few races for them last year and it transpired from there. I'm so thankful for this chance of a lifetime and look forward to this season."
Before making his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut, McDowell will run the Spirit of Daytona entry during the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway with Guy Cosmo and Marc Camirand. He is also scheduled to drive the #00 Toyota Camry in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Camping World 300 at the 2.5-mile tri-oval.