Michael McDowell was finally rewarded for years of toiling away in underfunded teams by being in the right place at the right time late Sunday night as he went to victory lane in the Daytona 500. McDowell has run well in this race before with his best finish being fourth in 2017, but he hasn’t always been rewarded with his patience at the Great American Race.
Sunday tested everyone’s patience. After a huge wreck caught up 16 cars, the skies opened up with rain and lightning forcing more than a 5 hour delay in the restart of the race.
The first Big One happened near the front of the field on lap 14 when Christopher Bell tagged Aric Almirola after being pushed by Kyle Busch. It was way too early for that kind of positioning but with fresh tires, everyone felt like superman and it was complete carnage after that.
Of course when someone gets turned at the front of a tightly packed field, the number of cars affected is pretty high. It is unfortunate because there were a lot of fast cars that would have made for an interesting race – assuming they wouldn’t have wrecked later anyway. Which they would do.
After the late restart, drivers behaved and got back in line and aside from the end of each stage and the ensuing restarts, they pretty much played follow the leader for the rest of the race. Of course there were a few shuffles as drivers experimented with pulling out and finding who had just what. What they found is that the bottom line was no match for the high line. Even if someone was able to gather a few cars and start a run, they were no competition for a well-organized high line.
Denny Hamlin won both Stage 1 and 2, led the most laps and looked like he would be the eventual race but the final round of green flag pit stops took the Toyotas out of the lead. The Fords of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski were showing the way with Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott in hot pursuit.
On the final lap, as Keselowski dropped back to third place McDowell to get his run on Logano. That idea worked a little too well as Keselowski made his wove, McDowell got a push and shoevd Keselowski right up to Logano. Whether Logano wasn’t expecting the push or it happened at the wrong time in the wrong place, the two teammates spun out right in front of the field as McDowell, Elliott and Dillon scooted past with the yellow flag few freezing the field and handing McDowell his first Cup win and the honor of being a Daytona 500 winner.
The ensuing mess behind the winners saw most of the rest of the field getting wrecked, or wrecked again, with only 11 drivers finishing on the lead lap and running at the end. Several other cars were officially “running” but were laps down not any threat to win.
As often happens at Daytona, the wrecks took out a lot of really good cars and allowed some others a moment in the sun. Ryan Preece, 6th, had a good car and was one of the top Chevy’s all race long. Ross Chastain in his new ride with Chip Ganassi finished 7th. Jamie McMurray in his one off race somehow survived the first wreck in decent enough shape to finish 8th. Corey Lajoie in his new ride was 9th and Kyle Larson in his 2021 debut rounded out the Top 10.
The Cup teams stay in Daytona this week for the next race which is the Daytona Road Course. It won’t see the kind of carnage that the Daytona 500 produced but there will be a lot of beating and banging as the heavy stock cars make their way around the turns.
A lot of drivers will be looking to redeem themselves after the 500 and Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney will not let Kyle Busch win this race the same way he won the Busch Clash.
Enjoy the race and keep the shiny side up!
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Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media / Chris Graythen / Getty Images