Sleeper Pick: Michael McDowell Pulls Off Huge Upset With Last Lap Win In Long Delayed Daytona 500

Michael McDowell celebrates victory in the Daytona 500 (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

In a stunning upset at the end of an action-filled, rain-interrupted Daytona 500, Front Row Motorsports driver Michael McDowell claimed his first NASCAR Cup Series victory after charging into the lead during a brutal multicar wreck in Turn 3 on the final lap.

“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!”

In fact, McDowell, who led only the final lap at 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, is the eighth driver to get is 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.

Reigning series champion Chase Elliott finished second after contact between the Team Penske Fords of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano ignited the final wreck, sending the Toyota of Kyle Busch rocketing into the outside wall. When NASCAR illuminated the caution lights, McDowell was in the lead over Elliott by a car-length. 

“I saw the lights come on (for the caution), and I knew it was over right then,” Elliott said. “We had a fast car. We weren’t as good as I thought we were on Thursday (in the Duel 150-mile qualifying race). I thought we did a really good job of 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 race and have something to build on for when we come back and try to do better.” 

Austin Dillon ran third, followed by Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin, who fell short in his attempt to win a record third straight Daytona 500. Hamlin won the first two stages but lost the lead during the final cycle of green-flag pit stops when the small contingent of Toyotas got separated while exiting pit road.

Hamlin took the lead in the second stage after a cycle of green-flag pit stops and held it through the fifth caution of the race, which waved when Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell cut a left rear tire and spun into the Chevrolet of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 

At that point, Hamlin had led 58 laps, bringing his total of laps led in the Daytona 500 to 434, fifth-all-time and one ahead of Bobby Allison. Hamlin had led 34 consecutive laps to win Stage 1 after racing resumed on Sunday night. He finished with a race-high 98 laps led.

On Lap 14, before a long rain delay, off-center contact from Bell’s Toyota to the rear bumper of Aric Almirola’s Ford sent Almirola spinning near the front of the field, triggering a massive 16-car pile-up that inexorably altered the complexion of the race. 

We were just getting pushed too hard too early,” Almirola said. “It’s a long, long race. Man, we were in a fine position, just sitting there riding around in the top two, three, and the 20 (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.” 

Collected in the wreck were: Ryan Newman, making his first Daytona 500 start since the devastating last-lap wreck that put him in the hospital a year ago; Erik Jones, in his first start in a points race for his new team, Richard Petty Motorsports; Daniel Suarez, in his first run with newly formed Trackhouse Racing, a joint venture between Justin Marks and rapper Pitbull; and pole winner Alex Bowman, whose No. 48 Chevrolet was wiped out when Almirola shot up the track into the side of his car and rammed it into the wall. 

“It looks like the No. 10 (Almirola) kind of got turned sideways there, and I was the guy that got ran into,” Bowman said after an obligatory trip to the infield care center. “Bummer – I hate it for (sponsor) Ally. Obviously, we had a really fast Camaro. The Chevrolets were working good together; hopefully, a Chevy still ends up in Victory Lane.

“Hats off to everybody at Hendrick Motorsports; they built some really fast race cars. Hate that superspeedway racing works out that way sometimes, but that’s just part of the game.” 

Also heavily damaged in the melee were the cars of William Byron, Kurt Busch, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher, David Ragan, Jamie McMurray and Matt DiBenedetto. To add insult to injury, nearby lightning strikes delayed the restart of the race, and heavy rains followed shortly thereafter.

Five hours and 40 minutes later, after the rain abated and the track dried, engines were re-fired at 9:07 p.m., and the race resumed with 24 cars on the lead lap. 

Notes: In his first points race for the new 23XI Racing team co-owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan, Bubba Wallace ran near the front of the pack throughout the race but lost a lap with an unscheduled pit stop for a vibration on Lap 178 of 200. Wallace was caught up in the last-lap wreck and finished 17th…  Kyle Larson ran 10th in his first trip in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet… Austin Cindric’s strong Cup debut ended in the last-lap wreck that claimed three Team Penske cars… Ryan Preece, Ross Chastain, Jamie McMurray and Corey LaJoie claimed the sixth through ninth finishing positions, respectively.

NASCAR Cup Series Race – 63rd Annual DAYTONA 500

Daytona International Speedway

Daytona Beach, Florida

Sunday, February 14, 2021

               1. (17)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 200.

               2. (12)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 200.

               3. (4)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.

               4. (8)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 200.

               5. (25)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 200.

               6. (11)  Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 200.

               7. (34)  Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 200.

               8. (19)  Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 200.

               9. (16)  Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 200.

               10. (13)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 200.

               11. (27)  Cole Custer, Ford, 200.

               12. (9)  Joey Logano, Ford, Accident, 199.

               13. (24)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, Accident, 199.

               14. (10)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, Accident, 199.

               15. (39)  Austin Cindric(i), Ford, Accident, 199.

               16. (5)  Christopher Bell, Toyota, 199.

               17. (6)  Bubba Wallace, Toyota, Accident, 198.

               18. (21)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 198.

               19. (30)  Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 197.

               20. (28)  Joey Gase, Ford, 196.

               21. (35)  Cody Ware, Chevrolet, 196.

               22. (20)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 195.

               23. (38)  BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 195.

               24. (37)  Josh Bilicki, Ford, 194.

               25. (26)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 193.

               26. (2)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 191.

               27. (29)  Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 188.

               28. (40)  Kaz Grala, Chevrolet, DVP, 115.

               29. (33)  Quin Houff, Chevrolet, Accident, 37.

               30. (14)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, Accident, 14.

               31. (22)  Chris Buescher, Ford, DVP, 14.

               32. (36)  Anthony Alfredo #, Ford, DVP, 14.

               33. (23)  Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, DVP, 14.

               34. (3)  Aric Almirola, Ford, Accident, 13.

               35. (1)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, Accident, 13.

               36. (15)  Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, Accident, 13.

               37. (18)  David Ragan, Ford, Accident, 13.

               38. (7)  Ryan Newman, Ford, Accident, 13.

               39. (31)  Erik Jones, Chevrolet, Accident, 13.

               40. (32)  Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, Accident, 3.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  144.416 mph.

Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 27 Mins, 44 Secs. Margin of Victory:  Under Caution Seconds.

Caution Flags:  7 for 40 laps.

Lead Changes:  22 among 13 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   A. Bowman 1;K. Harvick 2-17;*. Grala 18-27;C. Elliott 28-29;A. Dillon 30;C. Custer 31;D. Hamlin 32-71;*. Cindric(i) 72-73;D. Hamlin 74;C. Bell 75-106;A. Dillon 107-108;C. Elliott 109;K. Larson 110;D. Hamlin 111-117;J. Logano 118;K. Harvick 119;D. Hamlin 120-128;B. Wallace 129;D. Hamlin 130-132;A. Dillon 133-136;D. Hamlin 137-174;J. Logano 175-199;M. McDowell 200.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Denny Hamlin 6 times for 98 laps; Christopher Bell 1 time for 32 laps; Joey Logano 2 times for 26 laps; Kevin Harvick 2 times for 17 laps; * Kaz Grala 1 time for 10 laps; Austin Dillon 3 times for 7 laps; Chase Elliott 2 times for 3 laps; * Austin Cindric(i) 1 time for 2 laps; Michael McDowell 1 time for 1 lap; Bubba Wallace 1 time for 1 lap; Cole Custer 1 time for 1 lap; Alex Bowman 1 time for 1 lap; Kyle Larson 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 11,37,3,5,33,20,23,22,42,41

Stage #2 Top Ten: 11,4,23,9,3,22,34,5,18,2


  1. Nascar needs to go back to noon starts for the 500. 12:30 am finishes does nothing for the sport. I know it’s a tv decision but 6 hr delays aren’t good for tv either. They could have gotten the full race in on schedule if they had started at noon. It’s the same deal every year it seems. I hope it rains in Daytona next week too. Then maybe the TV people will start thinking differently.

    Deserving winner though. McDowell has paid his dues. Congrats to him.

  2. McDowell started that whole accident with his push of the #2 car that set things off.

  3. I’m just flabbergasted. Our man Ryan (Rocky Balboa) Preece coming in 6th. No charter, no full year sponsorship no problem They brush it off and deliver. An extension of the strong ending the 37 team had at the end of last. year.
    Most impressive is staying in the hunt during the entire marathon. Ever so closely missing that first wreck and just staying fast. Good for the team, good for Preece showing the powers that be he’s a player and good for the prospect of additional sponsorship.

  4. I agree.. start earlier..Preece really ran a strong race. Pit crew not so strong… Came in 2nd place to pit road under yellow came out not even in the TOP 10 like 13th or something…. Still Preece fought His way back up to lead pack… Then PITTED BY HIMSELF????? BAD STRATEGY ???? somehow he managed to jump back up with lead pack and Deliver a 6th place finish after getting smashed into the wall on last lap..Congratulations to McDowell on Big Upset Win … Never Quit… Thats why I still believe Ryan has a chance to Win , especially on these Super speedways …. Great Job Ryan…!!!!

  5. True Doug. No question, Herculean (if that’s even a phrase) on his part for sure. Good car, smart, quick reflex driver.
    But( and you knew there be one) his pit crew.
    A big fat ugly F. How the heck can you race as a driver, avoiding wrecks, pull off a second place finish in stage 1, to come into the pits with everyone else under a controlled stage caution, and come out 14th? Jeez Louise! Preece never fully recovered from that.
    And, he probably finishes outside the top 12 without that last wreck. He almost made it past Kyle bush. Did a great job getting by there as well. So for preece, A+ effort for sure. I also think jtg gets props for a very good speedway car. (And you know how I feel about jtg, so that hurts me to say that!) Certainly capable of running up front.
    His pit crew et al killed him though. That’s been an ongoing story. For quite a while IMO. Wish they could clean that up.
    But great job by Ryan!
    Can’t wait to see how these guys handle the dirt at Bristol. Fun to read about logano at volousa last week and a 3rd place finish. Anyone know if preece has any dirt experience?

  6. Great job Ryan Preece. I really thought you were in for a banner day after finishing 2nd in stage 1 racing with the heavy hitters and having a car that could contend for a win.

    However, your pit crew needs some work. Second in the first stage, pit and come out of the pits out of the top ten? Not good if you expect to run up front with the big dogs. I hope that is a topic of discussion this morning at the team meeting.

  7. Suitcase Jake,
    The pitting by himself thing was definitely not strategy. My understanding is that that was a miscommunication between Ryan and his spotter. The team had planned to come onto pit road with the other Chevy teams but because of the miscommunication Ryan came in a lap early.

  8. Preece has the best average finish in the garage these last 2.5 seasons on superspeedways. He always runs well on speedways. He normally finishes well too. I’m not the least bit surprised. Based on that I had him as one of the favorites to win. You guys shouldn’t be surprised.

    That team really turned it on after Kentucky last year. We probably won’t see too many Cup races with 40 or more cars anyway. He’ll qualify every week. Preece just needs a good start to the year. Look at McDowell. That guy took far worse rides than Preece and now he is a Daytona 500 champion.

  9. daRealKnowItAllAccidentReconstruction says

    Congratulations to Michael McDowell on a well deserved win. He was not to blame for that accident.

  10. Amazing job by Ryan, with these wrecks you never know who will still be there at the end, he barely escaped the first wreck… what a great effort. Wrecks aside he was a lock for a top 10. I actually put coin on him to win..

    As for the start time and so on.. the PGA has it right, with the threat of weather they push up the tee times, granted they are fighting daylight but the point is, they adjust accordingly and tape delay for TV. This NASCAR shtick, there is so much pre-race crap, frankly it’s nauseating.. pre-race concert, flyover.. just queue up the theme from SHAFT and get on with it…

  11. I am glad you are not an accident reconstruction expert dareal. You just don’t have a clue and your statement about McDowell triggering the wreck just goes to prove it.

  12. It’s interesting the recollections people have that don’t seem to compute so being curious it’s time to check them against the results. Superspeedways defined as race tracks greater then 2 miles of which there are 4. Preece’s finishes.
    2020: Daytona 29,23 Talladega 15, 10 Pocono 20,25 Indianapolis 40
    2021: Daytona 8, 32 Talladega 3,18 Pocono 23,36 Indianapolis 16

    Kentucky being the 17th race after that Preece went: 40,34,16,25,16,23,25,26,37,17,20,9,19,10,14,29,18,19,34
    For the JTG team 20th or better has to be considered a successful race and if that’s true Loudon had to be the start of a better run where he came in 20th or better in 10 out of 17 races and improved his starting position in 13 out of the 17 races. Most importantly only one DNF in that run. 7 DNF’s prior to Loudon.
    We love getting fired up about a possible win but there has been nothing to indicate that was even a remote possibility short or divine intervention. The guys mentioning the pit stops are 100% right. Costly last year, costly in this race and it probably won’t change. The finish exceeded best case in my view but it was the consistency and ability to fight back to the top 10 that seemed a lot different this time around.

  13. Regarding the start time it just seems logical that sponsors would not be wild about starting the race at 9 AM on the west coast.

  14. Looked to me like the 34 got a run. Bump drafted the 2 who bump drafted the 22. But, I’m not sure if the 2 bump drafted the 22 wrong, but all hell ensued. Happened way quick But I did not see where the 34 in any way wrecked the 2 or turned the 2 sideways.
    Just a product of super speedway racing. Live by the bump draft and sometimes die by it.
    Well, that’s the way I saw it anyway.
    Probably won’t get earlier start times because of west coast markets, agreed.
    Also agree, sure a lot of pomp and circumstance.
    Gotta DVR these things now. Cut out hours of non racing footage.

  15. 🌈JD🌈 wrote, “Preece has the best average finish in the garage these last 2.5 seasons on superspeedways. He always runs well on speedways. He normally finishes well too. I’m not the least bit surprised. Based on that I had him as one of the favorites to win. You guys shouldn’t be surprised.”

    And Doug replied with a bitch slapping retort. I just can’t be bothered some times, but Doug did a great effort here.

    🌈JD🌈, refute Doug. Please present the statistical, or your hysterical analysis that caused you to write what I quoted above.

    Thanks in advance.

  16. Preece def needs a *MUCH* faster pit crew.

    McDowell pushed the 2 that then pushed the 22… McDowell took them both out.

    Roll the video…

  17. Pocono and Indy are not superspeedways in the true sense. Everybody knows Dega and Daytona are the real superspeedways. Preece has 2 top 10s at Dega and now 2 top 10s at Daytona since 2019 with 3 races remaining in 2021.
    Sure there were some wrecks but everyone has wrecks there. Where was he when he was collected?? Always near the front. Preece is a bonafide contender at Daytona and Talladega. Four top tens in two years is no accident. He is knocking on the door.

  18. Bobf, go to and watch the video… when you bump draft, you MUST hit the car in front square and in the middle. Hit off to a side and the car in front is going spinning. The 34 turned the 2, the 2 then hit the 22 and turned him.

    If it was a simple bump draft, they should have all survived, no muss, no fuss. But the 2 and 22 were instantly turned after the 34 started it.

  19. Pocono and Indy are not super speedways? Hmm…. 🤨 What is the true sense?

    What about Charlotte?


  20. This race is a joke.It’s supposed to be the marque event of NASCAR and they allow it to turn into a Demo Derby.No wonder why you see all the last lap wrecking in the lower teir series.I would not want to take my vacation,spend my hard earned money to go to this race and see a quarter of the field taken out in the first 20 laps of the race.These drivers have no respect for their lives as they play bumper cars at 200mph. Typical NASCAR ???

  21. Feel free to mock away, call me a dope, whatever, but could there possibly be a way to ban blocking?

    Judgement calls are made for pass interference in the NFL, they would penalize for passing under the yellow line.. if they could race vs. blocking it would be pretty interesting plus think of all those cars that could race another day and not be reduced to the scrap yard..

  22. Goldy, how can blocking be determined?

    You wanna block, do so at your own peril.

  23. I don’t know.. I’m just talking out of pure frustration.. more crazy talk while I’m at it, at the supers, turn off the radios with 10 to go.. the blocking is just too much these days.. sorry to spew nonsense..

  24. There’s a video interview with Joey Logano out there, look it up. He says that the cars pushing him from behind, the 2 & 34, were pushing off center that caused the mess.

  25. These so called RACES are gonna get SOMEONE KILLED ….. you look at these cars and the total devastation taking place and it’s really JUST A MATTER OF TIME .. Mike Joy stating ” there hasn’t been a fatality in a Major NASCAR touring series since Dale Earnhart’s death…Yes they have made great strides in safety since Dale’s passing….BUT the way I see it … Ryan Newman could have been Killed last year….It was a TOTAL MIRACLE he is still alive after the way his car was hit upside down into the window opening.
    I believe the way these HIGH SPEED CRASH demo derby’s are ESCALATING that a death is gonna happen. So many drivers have decried these Super Speedway type of racing, But Nascar keeps rolling them out …. maybe they see this and are moving some to the road courses … I hope so for the Drivers sake …

  26. Yea, that’s Joeys opinion and you are taking it as gospel.

  27. So dareal, who pushed the 10 and turned him into the outside wall to cause the wreck early in the race? I believe 16 cars? You mush have forgotten that one or just have selective memory.

  28. Earl, it’s a video with Loey Logano, and different views of the incident, that shows the 34 pushed the 2, and the 2 then pushed the 22, and the pushing was off-center, causing the problems.

    Roll the tape.

  29. Just saw a segment on FS1 with Logano and Jeff Gordon. Joey admits blocking Keslowski, but said that the 2 was going to spin even without the block as the result of the push by the 34. Logano did not blame the 34 – he said, in effect, that the accident was the result of the line of stacked cars and everyone trying to get in position for a last lap run.

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