Michael McDowell Pulls Off a Stunner at Daytona

Michael McDowell pulls-off a stunner in the last lap of the NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway late on Sunday night.

In a stunning upset at the end of an action-filled, rain-interrupted Daytona 500, Front Row Motorsports driver Michael McDowell claimed his first NASCAR Cup Series victory after charging into the lead during a brutal multicar wreck in the third turn on the final lap.

Michael McDowell Pulls-Off a Stunner

“I can’t believe it,” McDowell said. “I’ve got to thank God. So many years of just grinding it out, hoping for an opportunity like this. I’ve got to thank (team owner) Bob Jenkins for giving me this opportunity. I’m so thankful. 

“What a great way to get a first victory—in the Daytona 500!”

In fact, McDowell, who led only the final lap at 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, is the eighth driver to get is first Cup win in the Great American Race. His victory is the third for Front Row Motorsports—all coming in the No. 34 Ford with three different drivers: David Ragan at Talladega, Chris Buescher at Pocono and McDowell at Daytona.

Other Survivors

Reigning series champion Chase Elliott finished second after contact between the Team Penske Fords of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano ignited the final wreck, sending the Toyota of Kyle Busch rocketing into the outside wall. When NASCAR illuminated the caution lights, McDowell was in the lead over Elliott by a car-length. 

“I saw the lights come on (for the caution), and I knew it was over right then,” Elliott said. “We had a fast car. We weren’t as good as I thought we were on Thursday (in the Duel 150-mile qualifying race). I thought we did a really good job of executing today, staying out of trouble.

“That’s not something I’ve done a very good job of here in this race, so I’m glad we could at least finish this race and have something to build on for when we come back and try to do better.”

Austin Dillon ran third, followed by Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin, who fell short in his attempt to win a record third straight Daytona 500. Hamlin won the first two stages but lost the lead during the final cycle of green-flag pit stops when the small contingent of Toyotas got separated while exiting pit road.

Hamlin Dominates Almost Half the Race

Hamlin took the lead in the second stage after a cycle of green-flag pit stops and held it through the fifth caution of the race, which waved when Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell cut a left rear tire and spun into the Chevrolet of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

At that point, Hamlin had led 58 laps, bringing his total of laps led in the Daytona 500 to 434, fifth-all-time and one ahead of Bobby Allison. Hamlin had led 34 consecutive laps to win Stage 1 after racing resumed on Sunday night. He finished with a race-high 98 laps led.

The ‘Big One’ at Daytona

On lap 14, before a long rain delay, off-center contact from Bell’s Toyota to the rear bumper of Aric Almirola’s Ford sent Almirola spinning near the front of the field, triggering a massive 16-car pile-up that inexorably altered the complexion of the race.

“We were just getting pushed too hard too early,” Almirola said. “It’s a long, long race. Man, we were in a fine position, just sitting there riding around in the top two, three, and the 20 (Bell) just came with a big run and hit me really hard in a bad spot, and it turned me to the right and tore up our race car and ended our Daytona 500 way too early.” 

The Early Victims

Collected in the wreck were: Ryan Newman, making his first Daytona 500 start since the devastating last-lap wreck that put him in the hospital a year ago; Erik Jones, in his first start in a points race for his new team, Richard Petty Motorsports; Daniel Suarez, in his first run with newly formed Trackhouse Racing, a joint venture between Justin Marks and rapper Pitbull; and pole winner Alex Bowman, whose No. 48 Chevrolet was wiped out when Almirola shot up the track into the side of his car and rammed it into the wall. 

“It looks like the No. 10 (Almirola) kind of got turned sideways there, and I was the guy that got ran into,” Bowman said after an obligatory trip to the infield care center. “Bummer – I hate it for (sponsor) Ally. Obviously, we had a really fast Camaro. The Chevrolets were working good together; hopefully, a Chevy still ends up in Victory Lane.

“Hats off to everybody at Hendrick Motorsports; they built some really fast race cars. Hate that superspeedway racing works out that way sometimes, but that’s just part of the game.”

More Damages

Also heavily damaged in the melee were the cars of William Byron, Kurt Busch, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher, David Ragan, Jamie McMurray and Matt DiBenedetto. To add insult to injury, nearby lightning strikes delayed the restart of the race, and heavy rains followed shortly thereafter.

Five hours and 40 minutes later, after the rain abated and the track dried, engines were re-fired at 9:07 p.m., and the race resumed with 24 cars on the lead lap. 

Additional Notes

  • In his first points race for the new 23XI Racing team co-owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan, Bubba Wallace ran near the front of the pack throughout the race but lost a lap with an unscheduled pit stop for vibration on lap 178 of 200. Wallace was caught up in the last-lap wreck and finished 17th… 
  • Kyle Larson ran tenth in his first trip in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
  • Austin Cindric’s strong Cup debut ended in the last-lap wreck that claimed three Team Penske cars.
  • Ryan Preece, Ross Chastain, Jamie McMurray, and Corey LaJoie claimed the sixth through ninth finishing positions, respectively.

NASCAR Cup Series Race – 63rd Annual DAYTONA 500

Daytona International Speedway

Daytona Beach, Florida

Sunday, February 14, 2021

               1. (17)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 200.

               2. (12)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 200.

               3. (4)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.

               4. (8)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 200.

               5. (25)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 200.

               6. (11)  Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 200.

               7. (34)  Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 200.

               8. (19)  Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 200.

               9. (16)  Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 200.

               10. (13)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 200.

               11. (27)  Cole Custer, Ford, 200.

               12. (9)  Joey Logano, Ford, Accident, 199.

               13. (24)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, Accident, 199.

               14. (10)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, Accident, 199.

               15. (39)  Austin Cindric(i), Ford, Accident, 199.

               16. (5)  Christopher Bell, Toyota, 199.

               17. (6)  Bubba Wallace, Toyota, Accident, 198.

               18. (21)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 198.

               19. (30)  Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 197.

               20. (28)  Joey Gase, Ford, 196.

               21. (35)  Cody Ware, Chevrolet, 196.

               22. (20)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 195.

               23. (38)  BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 195.

               24. (37)  Josh Bilicki, Ford, 194.

               25. (26)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 193.

               26. (2)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 191.

               27. (29)  Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 188.

               28. (40)  Kaz Grala, Chevrolet, DVP, 115.

               29. (33)  Quin Houff, Chevrolet, Accident, 37.

               30. (14)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, Accident, 14.

               31. (22)  Chris Buescher, Ford, DVP, 14.

               32. (36)  Anthony Alfredo #, Ford, DVP, 14.

               33. (23)  Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, DVP, 14.

               34. (3)  Aric Almirola, Ford, Accident, 13.

               35. (1)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, Accident, 13.

               36. (15)  Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, Accident, 13.

               37. (18)  David Ragan, Ford, Accident, 13.

               38. (7)  Ryan Newman, Ford, Accident, 13.

               39. (31)  Erik Jones, Chevrolet, Accident, 13.

               40. (32)  Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, Accident, 3.

The Daytona 500 Stats

Average Speed of Race Winner:  144.416 mph.

Time of Race:  Three Hrs, 27 Mins, 44 Secs. Margin of Victory:  Under Caution Seconds.

Lead Changes:  22 among 13 drivers.

Caution Flags:  Seven for 40 laps.

Lap Leaders:   A. Bowman 1;K. Harvick 2-17;*. Grala 18-27;C. Elliott 28-29;A. Dillon 30;C. Custer 31;D. Hamlin 32-71;*. Cindric(i) 72-73;D. Hamlin 74;C. Bell 75-106;A. Dillon 107-108;C. Elliott 109;K. Larson 110;D. Hamlin 111-117;J. Logano 118;K. Harvick 119;D. Hamlin 120-128;B. Wallace 129;D. Hamlin 130-132;A. Dillon 133-136;D. Hamlin 137-174;J. Logano 175-199;M. McDowell 200.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Denny Hamlin six times for 98 laps; Christopher Bell one time for 32 laps; Joey Logano two times for 26 laps; Kevin Harvick two times for 17 laps; * Kaz Grala one time for ten laps; Austin Dillon three times for seven laps; Chase Elliott two times for three laps; * Austin Cindric(i) one time for two laps; Michael McDowell one time for one lap; Bubba Wallace one time for one lap; Cole Custer one time for one lap; Alex Bowman one time for one lap; Kyle Larson one time for one lap.

Stage 1 Top-Ten: 11,37,3,5,33,20,23,22,42,41

Stage 2 Top-Ten: 11,4,23,9,3,22,34,5,18,2