Feb. 14 (UPI) — Michael McDowell won the 2021 Daytona 500 after pulling ahead of the pack following a fiery crash in the last lap of a race that was punctuated by a long weather delay on Sunday in Daytona Beach, Fla.
McDowell was sitting third on lap 200 behind Joey Logano in first and Brad Keselowski in second when Keselowski tried to take the inside lane, sending his Logano spinning off the track and himself into the wall and ricocheting back into traffic, taking out several cars in the process.
With the lead cars smoking in his rearview, McDowell’s 34 Ford car was the first to cross the line, securing him his first NASCAR Cup Series win.
“Such a great way to get a first victory at the Daytona 500, are you kidding me!” the 14-season veteran yelled during a post-race interview from the track as fireworks exploded above. “We are the Daytona 500 champions. I can not believe this.”
Chase Elliott finished second by .07 of a second followed by Austin Dillon in third, Kevin Harvick in fourth and Denny Hamlin, who had won the race in each of the last two years, in fifth.
The “Great American Race” started at about 3:05 p.m. EST on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway and was stopped at 3:26 p.m. due to weather and resumed just after 9 p.m.
Even before the delay, the first race on the annual NASCAR Cup Series season calendar got off to a rocky start when 16 cars were involved in a major wreck 14 laps into the event.
Eleven drivers were ruled out for the remainder of the race as a result of the pile-up.
Christopher Bell sparked the wreck when he pushed Aric Almirola’s No. 10 Ford. Almirola’s car then took out pole-sitter Alex Bowman, in addition to several other cars in the field.
Bowman, Almirola, Ryan Newman and David Ragan were among the drivers who were knocked out of the race due to the accident.
Harvick’s No. 4 Chevrolet was in first place when the race was flagged in the 15th lap for lightning in the area.
The race was then delayed for five hours and 40 minutes. NASCAR drove jet dryers over the 2.5-mile, tri-oval to dry the wet surface, but the trucks that pulled the dryers had to be removed multiple times as rain and lightning returned to the area.
Hamlin won the first stage, which ended after the first 65 laps once the race resumed. His No. 11 Toyota also led the field through the second stage, which ended after 130 laps. Harvick, Bubba Wallace, Elliott and Dillon were also in the Top 5 after two stages.
Cup Series drivers will compete on the same site next weekend in the Cup Series Race at Daytona Road Course event. That event airs Feb. 21 on Fox.