Daytona 500 Winners and Losers in the NASCAR Cup Series highlights the big or small victories and defeats for drivers throughout the 2021 season.
In each week of NASCAR racing, there are the obvious winners and losers from the different races. So, it’s important to look a little bit deeper into the effect of the result of these races, and how certain drivers, teams, and other NASCAR-affiliate entities are feeling about the weekend. Here’s the first 2021 edition of ‘Winners and Losers.’
Winner: Michael McDowell
This is the most obvious win that occurred during Daytona Speedweeks. Following 358 winless Cup Series starts, McDowell pulled off one of the largest upsets in recent memory, by taking the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford into victory lane. Following a wild last-lap crash, McDowell snuck through the carnage to claim his first career win in NASCAR’s premier series. As a bonus, McDowell likely gains his primary sponsor, Love’s Travel Stops, some revenue with a Valentine’s Day victory.
Loser: JR Motorsports
After Noah Gragson took his No. 9 JR Motorsports car to the win in the Xfinity Series opener in 2020, there were some high expectations for the team coming into the 2021 version of the race. By the time the race was winding down to the final laps, Dale Jr. likely had smoke coming out of his ears. Michael Annett, Justin Allgaier, Josh Berry, and Gragson all ruined their cars before the finish line, taking all the JR Motorsports teams completely out of contention.
While McDowell was the true underdog of the weekend, there is more than one shining moment for abnormal contenders at Daytona. In the NASCAR Truck Series race, Cory Roper was a half a lap away from winning in the No. 04 truck he built in his own shop, and Jordan Anderson finished as the runner-up in the race for the second straight season. In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Brett Moffitt won a stage for Our Motorsports and brought his car home second. In the NASCAR Cup Series and in addition to McDowell’s Daytona 500 win, both Spire Motorsports cars finished inside the top-ten, and Ryan Preece came home sixth. Underdogs appreciate Daytona, as the draft can neutralize the large gap in equipment, and that was never more apparent than this weekend.
Loser: The Current Superspeedway Package
The 2021 Daytona 500 is the perfect example of the negative effect of the current superspeedway package. Gen 6 races at Daytona and Talladega thrive off of a full group of tightly packed cars. Nearly half the field, however, was involved in a large wreck on lap 14, which caused a long period of single-file racing. Drivers seemed a bit timid for most of the race, scared to pull out of line and try to make a move. At the end of both stages, the field seemed to wait too long to race aggressively, allowing Denny Hamlin to take over the lead without too much of a fight. When the race finally did get wild at the end, it of course led to a massive wreck. This package has given us some great races, but the same package also shows what happens when there is an early ‘Big One.’
Winner: NASCAR safety
If 2020 wasn’t enough of a reminder that NASCAR has made incredible safety advancements in recent years, this Sunday was another reinforcement. After Ryan Newman’s crash last year, it is difficult to imagine anything close to the feeling of seeing Newman’s car flying through the air. While this year’s last-lap crash isn’t quite as violent for any one car, Brad Keselowski’s car made contact with the catch fence, Kyle Busch and Austin Cindric took huge hits, and a massive fireball encompassed the third turn of the track. The fact that there were no injuries is another positive for NASCAR in terms of safety.
Loser: Team Penske
Though Austin Cindric was able to win the Xfinity race for Roger Penske and Co., the team dealt with heartbreak in the Cup Series. Ryan Blaney was wrecked out of the lead in the final chicane of the Clash, and Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, the other two Penske drivers, crashed with one another in the final lap of the 500. In a flash, Penske went from a possible one-two finish in the biggest race of the year to all three of their cars heading to the junkyard (Blaney was also involved in an earlier incident). It is a rough start to the season for a team with championship aspirations.
It’s been over a decade since Verizon last sponsored a car that visited victory lane. Justin Allgaier took an Xfinity car to a win with the company as his primary sponsor in 2010, and with Xfinity as one of NASCAR’s biggest sponsors, Verizon has stayed out of the sport for a while. They made their return this weekend in both the Xfinity and Cup Series (albeit without the actual name on the car in the former), and Austin Cindric gave the car plenty of air time in both races.
Loser: NASCAR on FOX
Though there is some logical reasoning for starting the Daytona 500 later in the day, it is obvious at this point that an earlier start would have a positive effect weather-wise. Last year, the 500 was delayed after just 20 laps, and ended up being rescheduled for Monday. This year, the race got 15 laps in, and of course, went through a nearly six-hour rain delay. While an earlier start may be slightly less appealing to West Coast viewers because of a morning start time, there is a higher chance of avoiding the inevitable late afternoon storms that always pound the Florida coast.
Winner: Ryan Preece
After two seasons in a chartered car for JTG Daugherty, Preece knew the 2021 season was going to be different. JTG dropped from two charters to one, leaving Preece in an ‘open’ car for the season, and putting in a full season for the No. 37 car is in doubt. Preece not only qualified for the race by posting a solid qualifying time but finished top-five in his Duel race and sixth in the 500. Preece was able to avoid all of the crazy accidents, some with very little room for error, and is now in a solid position for the rest of the season point-wise.
Loser: Jordan Anderson
Anderson is a loser this weekend for two reasons; one more significant than the other. In the truck race, Anderson very nearly pulled off an upset win with a huge run through the tri-oval and ended up finishing second in the race for the second straight year. So close, yet so far. Bigger than this heartbreak, Anderson’s Xfinity plans were thrown off track due to poor Daytona weather. Anderson’s plan was to run his No. 31 car full-time in the Xfinity Series, but with no owner’s points, he was left out of the race when qualifying was rained out. The next race with qualifying is at the Circuit of the Americas in May, so unless another race has an entry list that isn’t full, Anderson won’t be able to race in the series until then.