Michael McDowell
Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

“The number one thing in all sports, NASCAR included, is your mental game.”

On the biggest weekend of the racing year, Daytona 500 defending champ and Front Row Sports driver Michael McDowell sat down with ESNY to chat about his legacy, his time in the sport and his mental and physical preparation.

McDowell’s journey started in Karting and evolved to Open-Wheel before driving Indy cars and eventually making his NASCAR debut in 2007. It wasn’t until his 2021 Daytona 500 win that he recorded his first-ever win in the Cup Series.

“I do feel very well rounded in regard to different disciplines of racing,” he said. “You do gain a lot of knowledge and experience in different situations and that helps you grow.”

McDowell credits his preparation, which includes his partnership with Celcius energy drink, in helping him climb to the top of his game. He doesn’t bulk up with weights because “I don’t need to bench press 350 pounds to drive the racecar.”

Instead, he concentrates on mental toughness, speed, agility, cardio and high intensity interval training.

“It’s 130, 140 degrees in our car, that’s where the mental toughness comes in,” he said. “When it’s hot, your body will give out. But the first thing that goes is your mind.”

As a child, McDowell grew up idolizing drivers like Mario Andretti and Michael Schumacher because Schumacher “always elevated the people around him.” Growing up watching successful drivers like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards — and then racing against them — has been a surreal experience for McDowell.

And when it’s all is said and done, you can bet your Daytona loving backside that he, too, will be mentioned in that group.