Michael McDowell only held the lead for one lap at Sunday’s Daytona 500, but that was enough for the veteran driver to finally capture his first career NASCAR Cup Series win in a stunning finish punctuated by a final-lap crash.
Joey Logano led the race heading into the final lap, with Brad Keselowski close behind.
McDowell Takes Advantage of Keselowski Move
Keselowski attempted a pass, but Logano blocked the move. That led to contact that crashed both drivers. In the ensuing chaos, NASCAR turned on the caution lights, meaning the driver who was in the lead at that time would get the win.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 15, 2021
At that time, McDowell held a car-length lead over Chase Elliott, enough to earn a historic victory.
“I knew [Keselowski] would go for a race-winning move, and my plan was to let him make that move,” McDowell said afterward. “I knew I didn’t want to make my move too early, so I was committed to the [Keselowski] bumper, and when he made the move, the hole opened up.”
McDowell came into the race as a heavy underdog, to say the least. FanDuel Sportsbook listed him at +7000, with most sportsbooks posting the 36-year-old at similar – or even longer – odds. Over a 14-year career, he had zero wins over 358 races on the NASCAR Cup Series, and only one win in 94 career starts on the Xfinity Series.
A customer placed a $70 wager on Michael McDowell to win the #Daytona500
That customer will be paid out $4,970 🏁
What. A. Finish. pic.twitter.com/Qc3xWk4f5g
— FanDuel Sportsbook (@FDSportsbook) February 15, 2021
The crash stunned the drivers at the front of the pack, including Logano.
“Pandemonium, I guess. Chaos struck,” Logano said. “If we couldn’t win, I’m really happy to see McDowell win this thing.”
Hamlin Comes Up Short in Three-Peat Bid
Denny Hamlin came into the race as the favorite to win his third straight Daytona 500. For a time, it looked like he might become the first driver to pull off that three-peat. Hamlin led for 98 laps, winning Stage 1 and holding the top spot for much of the second stage as well. He ultimately lost the lead during the final set of pit stops, finishing in fifth place.
The crash at the end wasn’t the only chaos at the Daytona 500. Just 15 laps into the race, Aric Almirola turned into pole-position qualifier Alex Bowman, causing a 16-car wreck. Soon after, a thunderstorm stopped the race due to lightning, leading to a nearly six-hour delay.
“We were just getting pushed too hard too early,” Almirola said, via NASCAR.com. “We were in a fine position, just sitting there riding around in the top two, three, and [Bell] just came with a big run and hit me really hard in a bad spot, and it turned me to the right and tore up our race car and ended our Daytona 500 way too early.”
Austin Dillon ultimately finished in third place, just behind McDowell and Elliott. Kevin Harvick finished fourth, ahead of Hamlin in fifth.
Because McDowell only led one lap, he sits only fifth in the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings after one race. But, the win virtually assures him of a place in the year-end playoffs.