NASCAR: 2021 Daytona 500 champion Michael McDowell leaving Front Row Motorsports at end of 2024

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA - APRIL 21: Michael McDowell, driver of the #34 Love's Travel Stops Ford, prepares for the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 21, 2024 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
Michael McDowell is leaving Front Row Motorsports at the end of the season. He's driven for the NASCAR Cup Series team since 2018. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Michael McDowell is leaving Front Row Motorsports at the end of the 2024 season.

McDowell announced Wednesday that he’ll drive for a new team in 2025. The 2021 Daytona 500 champion has driven for the team since the start of the 2018 season.

“We thank Michael for all he has done during his time as a driver at Front Row Motorsports,” FRM owner Bob Jenkins said in a statement. “His 2021 Daytona 500 victory, a dominant win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and two appearances in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs set a new standard for our organization. He became the leader of his team and the organization.”

Not long after McDowell announced he was leaving Front Row, Spire Motorsports announced that he would join the team next season. Spire has a three-car team this season with Carson However and Corey LaJoie as the team’s two full-time drivers. Zane Smith is in a third car for the team as he’s on loan from Trackhouse Racing.

McDowell, 39, has three top-10 finishes in 12 races this season. He made the playoffs after his Daytona 500 win in 2021 and again in 2023 when he won at the Indianapolis road course. He's currently 26th in the standings and will likely need a win to make the playoffs again.

That win almost came at Talladega. McDowell was leading the field off Turn 4 on the final lap but crashed out as he tried to block a run from Brad Keselowski in the trioval.

McDowell’s announcement could be the first in many for drivers and teams outside the top tier of the Cup Series. There appear to be many moving parts ahead of the 2025 season with Smith’s near-term future unsettled, rumors of a potential downsizing at Stewart-Haas Racing and now an opening at Front Row Motorsports.

Trackhouse has Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez in its two cars. If it wants to bring Smith into the fold, it could opt to not re-sign Suarez — who won the second race of the season — or expand. The team also has a deal with Australian Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen as he runs a partial Cup Series schedule this season.

If it expands past two full-time cars, Trackhouse will need to get a charter. Per a Fox story earlier in the week, SHR hasn’t renewed its contract with Ford and “has sent prospective buyers information on what it would take to purchase a charter.”

Stewart-Haas has tailed off considerably in recent seasons. Kevin Harvick propped the organization up before his retirement and Chase Briscoe in 14th is the only SHR driver provisionally in the playoff field through the first 12 races of 2024.

If SHR sells a charter or two, the driver market could change even more. The team currently employs Briscoe, Noah Gragson, Josh Berry and Ryan Preece. Gragson and Berry are in their first years with the team, while Preece has driven for the team since the start of the 2023 season and is currently 29th in the standings.