DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The Daytona 500 is known as The Great American Race. It is also known for having some of the best Cinderella stories in all of auto racing.
Sunday’s running of the 63rd Daytona 500 was no exception.
Michael McDowell survived the carnage of two massive accidents in turn three, the second of which happening on the last lap, to earn his first career victory. McDowell lead only the final lap as leaders Joey Logano and Michigan native Brad Keselowski were swept up in a crash, clearing the way for the driver from Glendale, Arizona to drive off untouched to the victory.
“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 the thank (team owner) Bob Jenkins for giving me the opportunity. I’m so thankful.”
Despite racing in the NASCAR’s top series since 2008, McDowell had never won a race in the Cup Series and has spent the majority of his career driving for relatively underfunded teams.
He is the 40th winner of the Daytona 500 and the eighth different driver to score their career win in the prestigious event.
The win was only Front Row Motorsports third win as a team and its first since 2016. All three wins for the team have come in the No. 34 Ford with three different drivers: David Ragan at Talladega in 2013, Chris Buescher at Pocono Raceway in 2016 and now McDowell.
Defending Cup Series Champion Chase Elliot finished second by less than a car length when NASCAR Officials put on the caution flag for the crash on the last lap. The oval configuration of the Daytona International Speedway has not been kind to the 25 year old driver from Dawsonville, Georgia.
Yesterday marked only the second time in 11 tries that he has finished in the top ten at the 2.5 mile track.
“I saw the lights come in (for the caution), and I knew it was over right then,” Elliot said. “We had a fast car. We weren’t as good as I though 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… 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.”
2018 Daytona 500 Champion Austin Dillon finished third. Kevin Harvick and three time 500 champion Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.
The Team Penske cars of Logano and Keselowski, running first and second entering the final lap, made contact going into turn three, igniting the final wreck, which saw Kyle Busch clobbering No. 2 car of Keselowski, sending it airborne before landing and momentarily catching fire.
All the drivers involved in the crash were able to climb out of their cars under their own power. The crash involved a total of eight cars, book-ending the race with large multi-car crashes.
The first crash, or “big one”, of the day came on lap 14 when Christopher Bell poorly timed and aligned a bump draft to Aric Almirola near the lead of the pack that sent Almirola’s No. 10 Ford spinning across the track in front of more than 30 cars running in a tight pack.
The results were 16 cars with minor to severe damage and eliminated race winning contenders such as Byron, Michigan native Eric Jones in his first points race for the famed Richard Petty Motorsports, Ryan Newman, in his return to the Daytona 500 since being involved in a crash on the last lap of last year’s event that almost took his life, pole sitter Alex Bowman, and Ragan, McDowell’s teammate, making his first start in NASCAR in a year.
While track crews worked to clean up the debris and pull out cars that were still drivable but stuck in the infield mud, the Florida weather decided it had had enough excitement and the skies opened up in a torrential downpour. The rain forced the race to be red flagged for nearly six hours as crews worked to dry the track.
Racing finally resumed at around 9 PM ET.
NASCAR returns to Daytona this coming Sunday, this time racing on the Road Course configuration of the speedway for the running of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 At Daytona.
Chase Elliot won the inaugural event last season and is currently on a four race winning streak on points paying road course events in the Cup Series.
Coverage of that will be live beginning at 3 PM ET right here on Fox 17.