The Daytona 500 had a 5-hour and 20-minute rain delay on Sunday with just 15-laps complete.
Just before a lightning delay, followed by a rain delay, a sixteen-car crash occurred in turn three that involved several most likely contenders. The incident, unrelated to the approaching storms, claimed Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray, pole-sitter Alex Bowman, Matt DiBenedetto, Tyler Reddick, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Ryan Newman, Christopher Bell, Kurt Busch, David Ragan, and Daniel Suarez.
Just six of the 10 drivers involved continued.
When things came to a close Monday morning it ended with Michael McDowell scoring the victory. McDowell, 36, from Arizona, scored his first career Cup Series victory by dodging a last-lap melee involving several contenders; most notably at the time race leader Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, and Kyle Busch.
“I just can’t believe it. I’ve just got to thank God. So many years just grinding it out and hoping for an opportunity like this,” said an excited and emotional Michael McDowell. “I’ve got to thank (owner) 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?”
While celebrating, McDowell acknowledged his love for his wife and kids watching back home. With NASCAR’s COVID-19 protocols, they do not allow families in the infield with their respective teams.
“I just want to say hi to my wife back home. Happy Valentine’s Day. I know it’s been a tough week. My kids, I love you guys. I wish they could be here with me to celebrate. Maybe NASCAR will send a plane to bring them down here, but we’re the Daytona 500 champions.”
With the finishing order frozen at the time of caution, Chase Elliott scored the runner-up finish.
“I don’t think it was very close. I kind of got next to him and I saw the lights come on, so I knew it was over right then,” said Elliott the finish. “I felt like we had a fast car. We weren’t as good as I thought we were on Thursday. I felt like we did a really good job executing today. Staying out of trouble – that’s not something I’ve done a very good job of here in this race, so I’m glad we could at least finish this one and have something to build on for when we come back and try to do better.”
Elliott, driving the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, led the field for three laps en route to his 60th Cup Series top-five finish and 97th top 10.
“The top was just so fast. It didn’t seem to matter who got down low; you couldn’t really make anything go,” Elliott continued. “We all kind of tried at certain points in time; it just didn’t work out. Close – we finished one, so I’m pretty pleased with that.”
McDowell entered NASCAR’s biggest race with 357 Cup Series starts and three top-five and 12 top 10 finishes. His previous best was a fourth-place effort in July 2017 at Daytona.
“It does, but whether I win this race or not it’s not what defines you,” said McDowell. It’s unbelievable and I’m so thankful, but I’m thankful to have a happy, healthy family and a beautiful wife and a great family. Not everybody makes it to victory lane and for 14 years I didn’t, so just to be here now is just so amazing.”
2018 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon took home the third-place finish. Dillon started the event fourth on the leaderboard and led the pack for seven circuits.
“You know you’ve just got to be thankful to be around at those moments at the end. I pulled out to see if the bottom would work and just didn’t get enough of a run. It was close,” said Dillon. We were here all weekend scoring points and that’s all I can ask for.
Kevin Harvick and winner of the 2019 and 2020 Daytona 500 Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five finishers.
Hamlin dominated the race up front, leading 98 of 200 circuits. The Virginia native attributed the last pit stop and gaining too much of a lead after exiting his pit box.
“We were too far out front. We got on-and-off pit road too good. I was just too far ahead of the pack,” Hamlin said. “I figured the Chevys would make a move from two or three to go, because they are not going to win on the last lap from fifth or sixth. I was able to gain some positions. I think I was 12th and everybody was running single file, so it handcuffed me. I couldn’t really do anything.”
Hamlin hoped he could make something happen around the eighth position with two laps remaining in his No. 11 Toyota.
“I hoped once I got to eighth as long as they make a move with two to go, I’m in the energy – in the area where I can make something happen. Dominant car, just a dominant car. Just one of those things that execute too good.”
Ryan Preece, Ross Chastain, Jamie McMurray, Corey LaJoie, and Kyle Larson rounded out the top 10.
The yellow waved seven times for a total of 40 caution laps. 40 drivers started the 63rd annual event while 22 finished the event. 18 drivers ended up not taking the checkered flag.
All drivers involved in accidents throughout the 200-lap event were evaluated and released from the infield care center.
The next race for the NASCAR Cup Series will be on the Daytona Road Course. The event will take place on February 21st at 3:00 p.m. ET. live on FOX and MRN Radio.