Race Winner: Michael McDowell of Front Row Motorsports (Ford)
Stage 1 Winner: Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)
Stage 2 Winner: Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)
Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-65):
● Cole Custer started 27th and finished 10th, collecting one bonus point.
● After taking the green flag from the rear of the field because the No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang team had to go to a backup car, Custer was up to 30th when the first caution flag of the race flew on lap three for debris on the racetrack. He pitted for fuel only and restarted 28th when the race went back to green on lap seven.
● Custer held his relative position early in the ensuing run and emerged 15th after avoiding a 16-car accident in front of him on lap 14. He reported his HaasTooling.com Ford was a little too free on corner entry and exit to feel confident about racing hard in this early stage of the race.
● Moments after the multicar accident, the race was red-flagged due to lightning in the area. Rainstorms soon followed and persisted over the next several hours. After a five-hour, 40-minute red flag, the race resumed under yellow, and Custer came down pit road. The No. 41 got four tires and fuel and rejoined in 12th place. Custer pitted a second time on lap 24 anticipating the green flag to top off the fuel tank and resumed 21st. Several cars ahead of him pitted for fuel on the ensuing lap, and Custer advanced to eighth by the time the race went back to green on lap 29.
● Custer had a solid restart and advanced all the way into the lead on lap 31 before falling out of the high line and dropping back to 15th.
● A two-car incident toward the rear of the field brought out the caution flag on lap 39 while Custer was running 14th. He stayed on track and restarted 14th when the race went back to green on lap 42.
● Custer floated in and out of the top-10 over the final 23 laps of the stage and crossed the line 10th at stage’s end. He said he wanted to get back some of the front grip that was lost as the result of the last round of changes. He pitted during the break for tires, fuel and adjustments, and he lost a handful of positions after experiencing trouble getting into his pit stall.
Stage 2 Recap (Laps 66-130):
● Custer started 20th and finished 14th.
● The HaasTooling.com Ford bided its time midpack until just past the race’s halfway point. Custer was running 16th when he pitted under green with a handful of other Fords on lap 104 for fuel only. He was back in 16th when the rest of the field cycled through the round of green-flag stops on lap 110.
● The caution flag flew on lap 111 for a multicar incident behind Custer, who was up to eighth place by this time. He pitted under caution on lap 114 for four tires, fuel and a quick inspection, and restarted 11th when the race went back to green on lap 117.
● Custer lost contact with the lead pack midway through the final 16-lap run to the stage’s end and crossed the line 14th. He pitted during the break and restarted 12th to begin the final stage.
Final Stage Recap (Laps 131-200):
● Custer started 12th and finished 11th.
● The No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang had a strong restart when the stage went green on lap 136. Custer launched himself into the top-10 and climbed as high as sixth over the next four laps.
● As the field circled the track primarily single file after the initial laps of the stage, Custer stayed in the sixth spot all the way to the last scheduled stop of the night under green on lap 170. He emerged in fifth place after the rest of the field cycled through the round of green-flag stops with 26 laps to go, then moved up to third one lap later and stayed there as the field continued to run single file.
● Custer dropped out of the single-file line on lap 190 as a line of cars riding momentum approached in a newly formed low line. He fell from third to 13th, then climbed back to 11th on the next lap. The No. 41 stayed there until taking the checkered flag, albeit limping across the finish line with damage from contact as Custer tried to navigate through a multicar accident ahead of him on the final lap.
● Custer made his 40th career NASCAR Cup Series start and his third at Daytona to kick off his sophomore season in the NASCAR Cup Series.
● Custer’s 11th-place result bettered his previous best finish at Daytona of 30th, earned in the series’ visit to the track last August.
● Custer led one lap – his first lap led at Daytona.
● Michael McDowell won the Daytona 500 to score his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory and his first at Daytona, edging second-place Chase Elliott, as the race finished under caution.
● There were seven caution periods for a total of 40 laps.
● Only 11 of the 40 drivers in the race finished on the lead lap.
● Austin Dillon leaves Daytona as the championship leader, with a six-point advantage over second-place Denny Hamlin.
Cole Custer, driver of the No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
“Overall, it was a good race for our HaasTooling.com Ford team. I felt really good about being in the top-three with around 15 laps to go, but I’m not quite sure what happened. I think we just got shuffled out of the line and dropped back, but in the end we didn’t come out too bad, and I’m glad to see everyone walk away from the wreck at the end. That was a good starting point for the beginning of the season, and we’ve got a lot we can build on from here.”
The next event on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 on Sunday, Feb. 21, on the Daytona road course. The race begins at 3 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by FOX and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.