Michael McDowell Wins First Daytona 500 In 358th NASCAR Cup Series Startby Hunter Thomas February 15, 2021 0 comments
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The seas parted for Michael McDowell at Daytona International Speedway during the early hours of Monday, when Team Penske teammates, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski crashed on the final lap of the 63rd running of the Daytona 500, handing over the win to the 14-year winless driver.
On the final lap of the 200-lap Daytona 500, McDowell was running third behind his fellow Ford Performance drivers, Logano and Keselowski. With drafting help on the outside lane from defending NASCAR Cup Series champion, Chase Elliott, McDowell was able to push Keselowski, who then made a move for the lead. Logano went to block Keselowski’s move, and the two drivers crashed, collecting much of the lead pack. With first and second out of the way, McDowell held off Elliott and Austin Dillon long enough for NASCAR to throw the caution due to a horrific crash behind them.
“My plan was to stick to the 2 (Keselowski) car,” McDowell said. “I knew he would go for a race-winning move and my plan was to let him make that move and then coming off of four try to get to his outside or inside. I knew I didn’t want to make my move too early, so I was committed to the 2 car’s bumper and when he made the move, the hole opened up. It’s just unbelievable.”
The win in The Great American Race, is McDowell’s first-ever in the NASCAR Cup Series. He earned the victory in his 358th series start. McDowell is known around the garage for being a stout competitor at restrictor plate tracks. On Sunday, he started 17th in the Front Row Motorsports No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford, and he finished seventh in Stage 2. He will now forever be known as a Daytona 500 champion, and he joins Michael Waltrip (2001) and Trevor Bayne (2011) who earned their first NASCAR Cup Series wins in the prestigious race.
“I just can’t believe it,” McDowell said. “I’ve just got to thank God. So many years just grinding it out and hoping for an opportunity like this. I’ve got to thank Love’s Travel Stops, Speedco, Bob Jenkins for giving me this opportunity. I’m so thankful. Such a great way to get a first victory — a Daytona 500. Are you kidding me?”
The crash that happened behind McDowell was quite the sight. Keselowski was nailed by Kyle Busch and went flying into the Turn 3 catchfence. With nowhere to go, Austin Cindric, who was having an incredible performance, plowed into Busch and Keselowski and igniting a huge fire. All of the drivers were OK following the crash.
Logano who was leading at the time said, “Pandemonium, I guess. Chaos struck. The 2 kept trying to back up, trying to get a run. I was trying to back up to him to keep the runs from being too big and just, I guess he got to the back of the 34 and it ended up being a really big run coming at me and it seemed like we all just collided in one spot. It’s a real bummer that none of the Penske cars won, but at least a Ford won and I’m really happy for McDowell.
Keselowski felt that he did everything right to attempt to win the Daytona 500. Following the race, he said, “I had a big run down the backstretch and wanted to make the pass to win the Daytona 500 and it ended up really bad. I don’t feel like I made a mistake, but I can’t drive everybody else’s car, so frustrating.”
Finishing behind McDowell was Elliott and Dillon. Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin who led 98 laps completed the top-five. Rounding out the top-10 was Ryan Preece, Ross Chastain, Jamie McMurray, Corey LaJoie and Kyle Larson.
The Daytona 500 saw 22 lead changes among 13 drivers, as well as seven cautions for 40 laps. The largest crash of the race came on lap 15, when a bump draft between Christopher Bell and Aric Almirola went amiss. Bell turned Almirola, who was running second at the time, in front of the field. The pack scattered, and some of the most notable drivers involved included pole-sitter, Alex Bowman, along with Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Ryan Blaney and William Byron who nearly flipped over onto his side. Overall, there were 16 cars that were involved. During cleanup, the rain began to fall, and the red flag was displayed for 5 hours and 40 minutes.
The NASCAR Cup Series will once again race at Daytona International Speedway next weekend, but it will be on the Daytona Road Course. The O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 at Daytona will broadcast live on FOX at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, February 21.
Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images