The winner of the 2021 Daytona 500 wasn’t in the lead until the very end of the race after a fiery crash on the final lap opened a path for him to drive through.
Michael McDowell was tracking leaders (and Penske teammates) Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski on Lap 200 of the 200-lap race when Logano and Keselowski wrecked and NASCAR subsequently turned on the caution lights. McDowell was ahead of Chase Elliott by a car length at the time of the caution, giving him the lead and the race win. He crossed the start-finish line first for good measure after securing his first Cup Series victory in his 358th career start.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 15, 2021
“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!”
McDowell, who led only the final lap at 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, is the eighth driver to get his 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.
The win also qualifies McDowell for the Cup Series playoffs Round of 16.
Keselowski, meanwhile, threw his gloves and helmet in frustration after he exited his heavily damaged car.
— Nathan (@b1gnate_11) February 15, 2021
“Had a big run down the backstretch, went to make the pass to win the Daytona 500 and it ended up really bad,” he told Fox Sports. “I don’t feel like I made a mistake, but I can’t drive everybody else’s car.” It was unclear whether Keselowski was referring to Logano appearing to block him or McDowell bump-drafting him just prior to the wreck.
“Chaos struck,” Logano told Fox Sports. “The 2 (Keselowski) kept trying to back up, trying to get a run, (I) was trying to back up to him to keep the run from being too big. I guess he got back up to the 34 (McDowell) and it ended up being a really big run coming at me and seemed like we all just collided in one spot. Real bummer.”
McDowell said he was able to get by because his car and Keselowski’s got “disconnected” during the bump draft just before the wreck. “Otherwise, I would have been right on the 2,” he said.
“The way that these runs work, sometimes when you hit a guy, you kind of push him out a little bit and you get detached from him,” McDowell continued. “Brad and I had a great run and I was on his bumper and then he pulled down and I got a little bit detached from him and then him and the 22 (Logano) got together.”
The wild finish early Monday capped a marathon race day that was bracketed by big wrecks.
Mother Nature grudgingly allowed NASCAR Cup Series drivers to kick off a new season. Inclement weather loomed over the 500 on Sunday, and then rain over Daytona Beach, Fla., caused almost six hours of delays.