DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — After starting his NASCAR Cup Series career as a crew chief with a bang, Drew Blickensderfer slowly began to wonder if he would reach the top of the mountain again.
Blickensderfer stepped atop the pit box for the first time as a Cup Series crew chief in 2009, when he guided Matt Kenseth to wins in the first two races that year, including the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
It was an auspicious start for the Decatur, Ill., native — perhaps too good of a start — at least for a while.
Blickensderfer was suddenly looked at as one of the best, and he’d barely begun as a signal caller at the top level of the sport. It was a difficult position to be put in and the buzz eventually began to dim.
Over the next 11 seasons, Blickensderfer won just once as a crew chief, in July of 2011 when David Ragan reached victory lane with Roush Fenway Racing at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
A decade of futility followed with Blickensderfer shuffling from team to team looking for a long-term home. He spent time with Richard Childress Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports before moving to Front Row Motorsports prior to the 2019 campaign.
Two years of building a team with journeyman driver Michael McDowell at the helm, paved the way for a return to prominence that Blickensderfer had worked hard to experience, but wasn’t fully prepared for.
Blickensderfer helped call McDowell to a signature triumph in the 63rd Daytona 500, McDowell’s first Cup Series victory. It was the second time Blickensderfer had reached victory lane in The Great American Race.
It was his fourth Cup Series victory as a crew chief, perhaps ranking as his most meaningful.
Sunday night’s Daytona 500 score reflected the end to a long road for Blickensderfer atop the pit box, a journey that — at times — left him doubting he would experience top-level success again.
“It’s unbelievable. You never know when you’re going to get the next win and when I do (NASCAR) Race Hub or a TV show and they’d ask, ‘What was it like that night in Daytona?’ I tell people that I really don’t remember it. It happened so fast, and I thought, ‘Man, if I ever get that chance again,’ I’m going to enjoy it,” Blickensderfer told SPEED SPORT. “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.
“When I took that leap, I knew there was a good chance we weren’t going to win, but we had to take the opportunities when they presented themselves and speedway racing is an opportunity for us (to win),” Blickensderfer added. “We focused on that. Michael works really hard at it. 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.
“Personally, my eyes are red … not because I had champagne in them, but I was tearing up out there. That’s how special this is and what it means to me.”
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