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Michael McDowell Daytona Odds as Ford Driver Pulls Off Stunning Upset

Newsweek logo Newsweek 2/15/2021 Dan Cancian
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Michael McDowell pulled off one of the great upsets in the history of the Daytona 500, taking the checkered flag on Sunday after a chaotic race that included a major crash on the final lap.

McDowell's triumph was not only his first taste of success in the "Great American Race," but his first-ever NASCAR Cup series win at the 358th time of asking.

"I just can't believe it," the No. 34 Ford driver told Fox Sports' Jamie Little after the race. "So many years just grinding it out hoping for an opportunity like this.

"Such a great way to get a first victory. Daytona 500, are you kidding me? [...] We're the Daytona 500 champions. I cannot believe this."

McDowell is only the eighth driver to record his first NASCAR Cup Series win in the sport's biggest race and the first since Trevor Bayne pulled off the feat in 2011. Sunday's win is also only the third for Front Row Motorsports and team owner Bob Jenkins in 1,081 starts.

"There's been lots of years where I was wondering what the heck am I doing and why am I doing it," McDowell, who finished fifth in the 2019 Daytona 500, added.

"I always knew if I just kept grinding that one day everything will line up and go right. It's been a tough road for me. I've had to spend a lot of years grinding it out."

McDowell's triumph was made all the more remarkable by the fact he led only one lap—the last. The 36-year-old trailed Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski going into the final lap, patiently biding his time as he looked for an opening which presented itself when Keselowski looked to overtake Logano.

The race leader's attempt to block his teammate's move resulted in both Penske cars crashing into the wall, triggering a multi-car pileup that collected several other drivers.

McDowell managed to avoid the chaos and took the lead ahead of defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon.

Elliott and McDowell were almost side-by-side entering the final corner, only for race officials to deploy the yellow flag to freeze the finishing order on the 200th and final lap.

"I don't think it was very close," Elliott explained. "I kind of got next to him, and then I saw the lights come on, so I knew it was over right then. We had a fast car. We did a really good job of executing. Staying out of trouble, that's not something I've done a good job of in this race, so I'm glad we could at least finish this one and have something to build on when we come back.

"The top was just so fast. It didn't seem to matter who got down low. You couldn't make anything go."

The final lap shunt was a fittingly chaotic end to a race that had already witnessed a major crash and a six-hour delay due to inclement weather. With 15 laps gone, the front bumper of Christopher Bell's No. 20 car got underneath the back end of Aric Almirola's No. 10 car, sending Almirola's car across the track into the wall.

The crash triggered a multi-car pileup that collected another 14 cars, before the restart was delayed to 9 p.m. ET as lightning strikes were detected within three miles of the track.

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