When Michael McDowell climbs into the No. 34 Ford Mustang for the Busch Light Clash at the LA Memorial Coliseum, he will have someone new in his ear. He will take on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season with a different crew chief after the departure of Drew Blickensderfer.
Front Row Motorsports announced on Friday, December 17, that Blickensderfer had informed the organization of his decision to leave and pursue other options. He and McDowell won the Daytona 500 together to kick off the 2021 season, but his departure brings an end to a partnership that began in 2019 and resulted in one playoff appearance.
“Drew helped lead the No. 34 team to new heights since coming to Front Row Motorsports, highlighted by winning the Daytona 500,” said team owner Bob Jenkins in a statement. “We are now in the process of securing the next leader in our organization to continue the solid foundation that has been built. That process has begun, and we will move quickly. We wish Drew the best in his next endeavors.”
Blickensderfer Has Spent 13 Seasons as a Cup Series Crew Chief
The announcement from FRM did not indicate whether Blickensderfer will remain in the NASCAR Cup Series or move on to something else entirely. If this departure marks the end of his time in the Cup Series, he will leave with four career wins over 13 seasons.
Blickensderfer began working as a crew chief in the Xfinity Series in 2006 while working with Danny O’Quinn Jr. and David Ragan, but he made his Cup Series debut in 2009. He served as the full-time crew chief of Matt Kenseth at Roush. The duo won the first two races of the season together and secured a total of 12 top-10 finishes and seven top-fives. Kenseth ended the year 14th in points.
Blickensderfer spent time as the crew chief for seven other drivers before joining FRM and McDowell in 2019. The list includes Ragan, Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Burton, Aric Almirola, Sam Hornish Jr., Billy Johnson, and Bubba Wallace, who finished second in the 2018 Daytona 500 to kick off their full season together.
McDowell & Blickensderfer Performed Well Together
A Cup Series veteran of 14 years, McDowell joined FRM in 2018 and worked with crew chief Derrick Finley while posting one top-10 finish. He then joined forces with Blickensderfer and began performing at a more consistent level.
From 2019 through 2021, McDowell and Blickensderfer combined for 11 top-10 finishes, including a career-high of five in 2021. They also secured a total of four top-five finishes and the Daytona 500 win. McDowell’s only other top-five took place during the 2017 season when he drove for Leavine Family Racing and finished fourth in the Coke Zero 400.
Fresh off a career year in which he finished 16th in points, McDowell will deal with numerous changes. He will have a new teammate in Todd Gilliland, who will take over the No. 38 Ford Mustang, he will have a new stock car after switching to the Next Gen No. 34, and he will have a new crew chief guiding him each week of the 2022 season.
Now there are only questions about whether he will surpass his career-best season or move back toward the middle of the pack. McDowell and his new crew chief will provide some answers when the Cup Series kicks off the regular season with the Daytona 500 on February 20.