Glendale, Arizona stand up! After 358 starts, Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell is a Daytona 500 champion and a first-time winner in the NASCAR Cup Series.
The beginning of the 2021 Cup Series seasons got off to a rollicking start as the dreaded “Big One” took place on lap 15 as Christopher Bell got a huge push from Joe Gibbs teammate Kyle Busch and turned Aric Almirola. Numerous contenders were involved including, William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., pole-sitter Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez, Kurt Busch, Tyler Reddick, Matt DiBenedetto, Ryan Blaney and many more drivers.
The red flag was displayed and then the rains came to delay the race.
After 5 hours, 40 minutes and 28 seconds, the red flag was lifted and the 63rd running of the Daytona 500 resumed.
The remaining 24 cars on the lead lap raced for the first few laps after the green flag dropped, but quickly formed the single-file line against the wall as the grind of 500 miles began.
However, the wrecks didn’t end as Quin Houff cut a tire after running over a chunk of debris that came off a nearly-totaled Byron Chevy. Houff’s day came to an end and he collected Chase Briscoe in the incident, but Briscoe continued.
On the restart, the Toyotas took over as Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch ran at the front. Ryan Preece, who is only running a part-time schedule for JTG Daugherty Racing, ran right behind the two Joe Gibbs Racing cars.
When the final lap was thrown for stage one, all bets were off as drivers raced for stage points. It was Hamlin holding off the field to take the first stage win of the 2021 season.
The second stage was mostly cool, calm and collected. The single-file train was dominated by Joe Gibbs as they ran 1-2-3 with Christopher Bell in the lead.
Green flag pit stops began the 190+ mph game of chess as the Fords came down first, followed by the four Toyotas and the Chevys last. However, Preece had a miscommunication with his crew and came down to pit road by himself, which puts drivers on an island as they are almost guaranteed to lose the lead pack.
Drivers started battling for the lead after pit stops cycled through and in turn two, Bell cut a tire and spun entering the backstretch. He suffered minor damage after contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr, who made contact with Kyle Larson. All three drivers remained in the race.
The train returned, but then it got wild on the final lap of stage two as the bottom line formed with Bubba Wallace leading the line. Hamlin and Wallace duked it out for the stage win and it was Hamlin prevailing as Kevin Harvick finished second.
The final 60 laps once again saw the train and the chess match on pit road continued. Hamlin earned the most laps led in the Daytona 500, but on the final pit stops, the Toyota’s separated and Hamlin was shuffled to the back of the line after the Fords and Chevys had the momentum in their draft.
The battle was on for the win and the Fords had the edge with Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Michael McDowell running in the top three.
Going down the backstretch, Keselowski attempted a move to pass Logano for the lead, but McDowell was still hooked to the back of Keselowski and Keselowski turned into Logano and both crashed in a massive fireball. Busch slammed into Keselowski and Keselowski ended up hitting the catch fence with the rear of his car. Austin Cindric and Wallace were involved as well in the violent accident.
At the time of the yellow, McDowell was clearly in front of Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon and was named the winner by NASCAR.
The top 10 went as followed:
- Michael McDowell(first career win in 358 starts)
- Chase Elliott(best Daytona 500 finish)
- Austin Dillon
- Kevin Harvick
- Denny Hamlin
- Ryan Preece(sixth-career top-10 finish)
- Ross Chastain(second-career Cup Series top-10 finish)
- Jamie McMurray
- Corey LaJoie(fourth-career top-10 finish)
- Kyle Larson
In total, only seven drivers weren’t involved in incidents (Dillon, Harvick, Elliott, Joey Gase, Cody Ware, Josh Bilicki, BJ McLeod) and only 11 cars crossed the finish line on the lead lap.
NASCAR will remain at Daytona as the points-paying race on the road course is up next.