Right Sides Only: Notes from the Daytona 500 Winning Crew Chief, Drew Blickensderfer


If a driver is looking for his first win, especially in the Daytona 500, then that driver needs a seasoned crew chief with a few wins under his belt. After 357 starts, Michael McDowell won the Great American Race with a crew chief who'd previously earned a victory in the season's all-important opening race.

Drew Blickensderfer, known to friends as Blick, led McDowell, the Front Row Motorsports driver and all-around nice guy, to his first win after a long, rain-soaked and accident-filled day in Florida. Wrecks and rain aside, how did Blick describe the day?

"Yeah, it turned out great for us. Lap 15 or so, it kind of got upside down for us... We kind of slid in some oil, thought we missed the wreck, and we flattened the right side of the car and when the lightning and the rain came we were sitting on pit road with two flat tires and a pancaked right side. I kept telling the driver, 'It’s fine, it’s nothing more than a Darlington stripe, it’s just a little bit of narrowing up,' and we were able to put tires on it when they pulled the red flag, and our car was fine. Once we beat the fenders out, we were okay... Michael’s MO and my MO to Michael is, 'Go do what we try to do, win races, not ride run around in the back just see if we can run fast," Blickensderfer said.

Blick has worked for a number of well-known drivers, including retirees, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards. In fact, McDowell's friendship with Edwards is what ultimately led the driver to Blick.

"I made the move to Front Row Motorsports because of Michael McDowell and because of Bob Jenkins. I saw what they wanted to build, and I wanted to be part of that. We are getting better. We are one of the NASCAR teams that’s getting bigger and better every year. We’re not trying to downsize and we’re not cutting corners, and we’re trying to get better, and it might be a small step and it might not be obvious, but that’s why I wanted to come over here.

"When I took that leap, there’s a good chance you’re not going to win. Like I said earlier, you’ve got to take the opportunities when they present themselves, and speedway racing is an opportunity, it’s an opportunity to do that. We focused on that. Michael works really hard at it, and I think personally, my eyes are red, not because I had champagne in them, but I was tearing up out there. I sat on the pit box and thought, man, I didn’t know if this day would ever come. It’s surreal sitting here because it’s been so long. It’s exciting," Blickensderfer explained.  

Some crew chiefs may not have chosen to take on a driver with such a long winless streak, but not Blick.

"I’m a realist, right. I’m at Front Row Motorsports with Michael McDowell and our team. We’re not Chase Elliott. We’re not Hendrick Motorsports. You have to pick your chances. I get super fired up when I come speedway racing. I love to come to Daytona and Talladega, and so does Michael, and those are chances for us. Everybody says they have a chance when they come here, but in reality there’s a handful of guys that run good at these places every time we come. Michael is one of those guys.

"And I think when we come here — and when we come back next week, we might not have the fastest car at the road course, but we have a chance to run really well, and if circumstances play out just like tonight, we could be there at the end, and we have to maximize those chances because there’s only five or six of them a year for Front Row versus if you’re a Stewart-Haas or if you’re at Penske or Hendrick or someplace like that," Blickensderfer said.

Blick talked about how it feels to work with McDowell after the career he's had.

"Yeah, I think Michael has done a really good job his entire career at speedway racing, of wedging himself in with probably a sub-par car and making sure he was there at the end, and that never wins races, but he’s always come out on the better part of that. We’ve kind of taken the initiative of, 'Hey, our cars are getting better, we’re getting better at mile-and-a-halfs, we’re getting better at short tracks, our speedway cars are getting better, Front Row is building. We’ve got cars now that are closer to winning.' It’s not to say we were the fastest car today or we were the fastest car, obviously we weren’t, if you looked at qualifying. But our cars are good enough to where he can be aggressive and make moves and not worry about just staying in line, maybe go for a win.

"I think that mindset, a spotter change this year, Michael having that aggressive attitude of not just trying to get fifth, trying to go for a win, all of that kind of worked out in our favor a little more than it has in the past," Blickensderfer explained.

Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR

Apart from appreciating his driver, Blick also enjoys working at the storied Florida track.

"I’ve been lucky. Someone said the other day they looked up my stats here, and they’ve been really good. This is a place that’s such a crapshoot, because at Talladega they haven’t been good, and it’s similar style racing. I think when you look at guys that run good here as drivers, they embrace it, and they love it. They’re not thinking, 'Oh, it’s one of those things, I hope I don’t get wrecked, it’s how do I win.'

"I don’t know if there’s anything to it, but I love coming to Daytona. There is no part of — whether it’s the 4th of July or the second race of the season or it’s the first race of the season, coming to Daytona is a super exciting time for me. I love the aspect of the racing. I think, you know, the last few years, these have been my chances to win races as a crew chief, so that’s helped embrace some of the love to come down here.

"When it was more of a handling racetrack, I really liked that part of it, and now that the strategy has kind of changed, I’ve embraced that. It’s a place unlike Talladega where it gets clogged up at the end of the race, and you have to be at the front. You can’t make it three or four wide very easily to get from 20th to the lead in 10 laps like you can at Talladega. Just the strategy part of Daytona, yeah, it’s been a place that I’ve really embraced.

"I don’t know if it’s luck or not. Either way, I’m going to keep riding it," Blickensderfer said.

Just like other winning crew chiefs, Blick has a unique approach to celebrating a big win: It's short-lived.

Speaking moments after the win, Blickensderfer said, "There’s a good chance I’m going to go to my motor home in about an hour, and I’m going to look at the playoffs and kind of start thinking about some of that stuff.

"We have a simulator date later this year where we’re on a sim for the Daytona road course, so we’ve obviously got to switch gears quickly. That’s one thing this sport does. You can’t rest too much on what you did the previous weeks because five, six days later you’re showing up somewhere else, and you’ve got to go do something different.

"I would say by Wednesday morning I’m full fledged on the road course, and then what we can do to help build this 34 car." And that's how teams win multiple races.


Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream most weekends throughout the season.
   This self-admitted grammar nerd loves reading mysteries, playing in the snow with her dogs, and binge-watching programs with her husband. 

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Daytona 500 Winning Crew Chief, Drew Blickensderfer Right Sides Only: Notes from the Daytona 500 Winning Crew Chief, Drew Blickensderfer Reviewed by Stacey Owens on Monday, February 15, 2021 Rating: 5