The Daytona 500 ended with a huge upset Sunday night as underdog Michael McDowell swept into the lead as teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski wrecked on the final lap.
McDowell, driving for underfunded Front Row Motorsports, beat Chase Elliott to the caution flag as a fiery crash erupted behind him. Logano, Keselowski and Kyle Busch were all involved in the crash.
The Daytona 500 win was the first ever NASCAR Cup Series win for McDowell. He joins such former NASCAR stars Sterling Marlin and Michael Waltrip as drivers to win the Daytona 500 for their first Cup Series victory.
Logano was leading the race when Keselowski, his Team Penske teammate, made a bid for the lead coming to the checkered flag. Keselowski got into the back of Logano, sending both cars crashing.
McDowell's victory set off a wild celebration.
"I've got to thank God. So many years grinding it out and hoping for an opportunity like this. This is such a great way to get your first victory. .. I cannot believe it!"
Denny Hamlin, trying to win a record third straight Daytona 500, dominated the race, leading the most laps and winning both Stage 1 and Stage 2. He was leading the race when the leaders pitted under green for the final time with 25 laps remaining, but lost the draft exiting pit road and fell to 12th at the back of the lead draft.
That left the Fords of Logano, Keselowski and Kevin Harvick battling for the lead. McDowell stirred up the mix, however, when he pushed Keselowski toward the lead. When Keselowski and Logano wrecked, McDowell beat Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon to the caution flag, which signalled the end of the race.
The Daytona 500 was red-flagged for rain on Lap 15 and delayed for more than six hours. NASCAR lifted the red flag at 9:08 p.m. EST and the race officially resumed just after 9:30 p.m.
When the Daytona 500 resumed, Austin Dillon took the lead, but Hamlin quickly sped past him with drafting help from Brad Keselowski while Bubba Wallace charged from mid-pack to third. Hamlin won Stage 1, followed by Ryan Preece, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson and Austin Cindric.
Hamlin teammate Christopher Bell took control early in Stage 2 and the three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates led the Daytona 500 at the halfway point. But shortly after green-flag pit stops, Bell had a tire going down and spun in the middle of the pack, collecting the cars of Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jamie McMurray.
After Bell's wreck, Hamlin drove back into the lead with drafting help from Wallace. Hamlin won Stage 2, followed by Kevin Harvick, Wallace, Chase Elliott and Dillon.
Daytona 500 marred by big crash
It was an eventful day for Bell. Just before the rain came, the young driver ignited a spectacular 16-car crash that took out several top contenders. Bell bumped Aric Almirola, sending him crashing hard into the outside wall. The crash also collected pole-sitter Alex Bowman, William Byron, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr. and former Daytona 500 winners Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch.
When NASCAR lifted the red flag, it sent teams involved in the wreck scrambling to repair their cars to see if they could get back into the race.
Some were not so fortunate. A total of 11 drivers had to retire from the Daytona 500, including Almirola, Bowman, Blaney, Newman and Chris Buescher. The race resumed with just 29 of the 40 cars on the track.
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NASCAR will return to Daytona International Speedway next week for the second race of the 2021 season at the Daytona Road Course.