From 0-for-357 to Daytona 500 triumph, McDowell wins the 63rd running Daytona 500, my main takeaways

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Most of the 63rd annual Daytona 500 was anticlimactic. After the “big one” on Lap 13 that collected 16 cars, we saw a lengthy rain delay that totaled 5-hours, 40-minutes and 29-seconds. So, once we got back going shortly after 9 p.m. ET, the drivers decided to take care of their cars.

Why risk a crash when you needed to be there in the end? So, we saw just four cautions post rain delay with two of which being for stage breaks.

That all went out the window though in the end. Michael McDowell was a beneficiary of a huge crash in Turn 3 to earn his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory.

All hell broke loose when Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski made contact with one another while going for the win. Logano, had the lead and Keselowski wanted it. Keselowski, looked to take the top spot but the two tangled and collected several leaders behind in a fiery crash at the top of the banking.

McDowell, skated through and was ahead when the yellow light was displayed to earn his first win in 358 starts.

Chase Elliott cam home second in his No. 9 Chevrolet for his second straight runner-up in Daytona. He also came home second in last August’s Coke Zero Sugar 400. This as his first top 10 though in six Daytona 500 starts.

Austin Dillon finished third in his No. 3 Chevrolet for his fourth top 10 in his last eight Daytona 500 tries. Dillon, had a very underrated Speedweeks with a good qualifying effort on Wednesday night and a Duel win on Thursday.

Kevin Harvick had to settle for fourth in his No.4 Ford for his second straight Daytona 500 while the two-time defending champion of the race, Denny Hamlin, rounded out the top five in fifth.

Here’s my main takeaways.



How The Ending Transpired

Denny Hamlin was the one to beat on Sunday night. The two-time defending Daytona 500 champion had swept both stages and led 98 laps up until the final pit sequence. The problem was, the final pit stops went awry.

Hamlin, had too big of a lead over Kyle Busch and neither were close enough to use each other as drafting help. The Ford train was coming and blew right by them with 25 laps-to-go.

The pack would go single file and run at the top of the banking all the way around until a few to go. There wasn’t enough energy built up for the Chevrolet’s or Toyota’s to make any ground. They knew it would take a lot for them to break up the five Ford’s up front.

If you go to the bottom line, you need enough cars to build some energy. There just wasn’t enough. But, the Ford’s weren’t going to just let Joey Logano win this either.

Logano, led from Lap 176 on but his teammate Brad Keselowski wanted to win. He had never won this race before and said that this was a nagging victory left on the table. With a shot to win in the end, you have to take it. So, he backed up off Kevin Harvick’s bumper with two to go to get some drafting help from behind via McDowell.

Keselowski, let Logano and Harvick get far out there off Turn 2 and used a big time push from McDowell to blow by Harvick. He was second with McDowell now in tow coming across the white flag.

On the backstretch, Keselowski made his move. Logano went to block.

“I had a big run down the backstretch,” Keselowski said. “Went to make the pass to win the Daytona 500 and ended up really bad. Don’t feel like I made a mistake but can’t drive everybody’s else car. Frustrating.”

Logano said he saw the strategy Keselowski was going and he was doing it back. He didn’t want Keselowski to keep backing up, so he was doing it too.

“(Keselowski) kept trying to back up, trying to get a run. I was trying to back up to him to keep the runs from being too big and just, I guess he got to the back of (McDowell) and it ended up being a really big run coming at me and it seemed like we all just collided in one spot. 

“It’s a real bummer that none of the Penske cars won, but at least a Ford won and I’m really happy for McDowell. I hate that we didn’t win. I feel like we had a great shot being where we were and leading on the last lap, but if we couldn’t win I’m really happy to see McDowell win this thing.”

McDowell, said that he was going to help Keselowski there until the crash occurred.

“My plan was to stick to (Keselowski),” McDowell said. “I knew he would go for a race-winning move and my plan was to let him make that move and then coming off of (Turn) 4 try to get to his outside or inside. I knew I didn’t want to make my move too early, so I was committed to (Keselowski’s) bumper and when he made the move, the hole opened up.

“It’s just unbelievable.”



All 3 Penske Cars Crashed In The End

That final lap crash was an expensive one for Team Penske. They went from a big payday with a 1-2 result to all three with a DNF. All three drivers were collected in the frightening incident that was sparked by two of their drivers. Austin Cindric was also collected as he had no where to go.


Harvick A Sitting Duck

Kevin Harvick tweeted following Thursday night’s Duels that this was a very good race car for him. He earned a top five that night and was confident in his No. 4 Ford’s ability to get a win in Sunday’s Daytona 500. Harvick, backed that up. He was second in Stage 2 and second in the closing laps following the final pit sequence.

The problem was, Harvick lacked drafting help. Call it the right place at the wrong time. Second place with just a few laps-to-go is where you honestly want to be in superspeedway races. This time, it wasn’t.

He had a Team Penske car in front and a Penske car in back. Any move he was going to make was going to force the Penske car behind to help the Penske car in front of him. He’d get shuffled back. So, Harvick just had to ride there.

“Yeah, Brad (Keselowski) laid way back there and got a run on the inside and then at that point when it scatters you hope that you get a push or you can wind up in the right spot and I just wound up in a spot that finished fourth,” said Harvick. “We had a great Busch Light Ford Mustang all night. We were able to position ourselves up front. It was kind of a weird race the way it would all single-file out and then you kind of scatter there a lap or two at the end and see where it all played out.”

When Brad Keselowski made his move with two to go in between Turns 1 and 2, he had no shot to defend. That cost him a win but did earn him his second straight top five finish in the Great American Race.


Spire Cars Get Dual Top 10’s

Spire is doing it right. They’re aiming to be a contender in Cup. They’re just taking it stage by stage and finally making some major headwind.

They expanded to two full time cars for 2021 and both having charges tied to them. Corey LaJoie would drive the No. 7 Chevrolet and a cast of drivers in the 77.

For Daytona, it was LaJoie and 2010 ‘500 champion Jamie McMurray. They each did phenomenal in scoring dual top 10s.

LaJoie backed up his top 10 from a year ago to finish ninth.

“Great way to start the year with our Spire Motorsports Chevy team. You always want to be in position to contend for a win, but to finish ninth in my first race with the team is exactly what we set out to do. Good start in points and we’ll continue to get stronger over the course of the year.”

McMurray over came being caught up in a couple of incidents to finish one spot ahead in eighth.


Hamlin had best car, pit stop sequence cost him a 3rd straight Daytona 500 triumph

Denny Hamlin had the car to beat in Sunday’s Daytona 500. He led a race-high 98 of 200 laps and well on his way to becoming the first three-peat champion in the races 63 year history.

Then the final pit sequence happened.

The Toyota’s hit pit lane last among the three manufacturers. It cost them.

The Fords were lined up and the Toyota’s couldn’t get formed quick enough to stay ahead.

Hamlin, had too big of a lead over teammate Kyle Busch and neither were close enough to use each other as drafting help. The Ford train was coming and blew right by them with 25 laps-to-go.

“We were too far out front (on the final pit stop),” Hamlin said. “We got on-and-off pit road too good. I was just too far ahead of the pack.

The pack would go single file and run at the top of the banking all the way around until a few to go. There wasn’t enough energy built up for the Chevrolet’s or Toyota’s to make any ground. They knew it would take a lot for them to break up the five Ford’s up front.

If you go to the bottom line, you need enough cars to build some energy. There just wasn’t enough.

“I figured the Chevys would make a move from two or three to go, because they are not going to win on the last lap from fifth or sixth,” Hamlin continued. “I was able to gain some positions. I think I was 12th and everybody was running single file, so it handcuffed me. I couldn’t really do anything. I hoped once I got to eighth as long as they make a move with two to go, I’m in the energy – in the area where I can make something happen. Dominant car, just a dominant car. Just one of those things that execute too good.”


Open Cars Impressive

Eight drivers entered this year’s Speedweeks without a charter. That means they had to qualify or race their ways into the Daytona 500. Half would make it, half would go home.

Among those eight, two had never even made a NASCAR Cup Series start before. Austin Cindric and Noah Gragson had as much experience as you and I in Cup. They knew that they had a lot to learn and had just 50 minutes of practice on Wednesday to get up to speed. That includes the new digital dash too.

See, the Xfinity Series cars don’t have them. It’s something that takes time to get used to. Well, it cost Cindric in his Duel. Cindric, had to race his way in on Thursday night. He was third fastest in Wednesday night’s qualifying round, so he had to beat Dillon, Ryan Preece and Timmy Hill to the finish line on the 60th lap. Unfortunately, he was speeding on pit lane on Lap 35. It was the only stop of the race. He fell a lap down and needed a ton of help to now get into the big show.

As luck may have it, Cindric ended up behind Preece on the track. Albeit being a lap down, he now needed Preece to be the winner among the open cars. Preece, wanting to score as many points as he could, needed the bonus points that the Duels paid. So, instead of playing it conservative and wanting to just fall back on his speed, he wanted to move forward.

Cindric helped that.

Cindric, gave Preece drafting help as Preece went from outside the top 10 on the white flag lap to come away fifth to narrowly beat Dillon for the fifth position. Even with finishing 17th in his Duel, Cindric as a result would of Preece beating Dillon would be in the Daytona 500 due to his qualifying time.

In the second Duel, Smithley sparked a big crash at the end and collected Gragson. Grala, even with damage from an earlier race incident, had some life. He made the Daytona 500 with the 40th and final spot due to David Ragan racing his way in.

That left Preece and Ragan in on the Duels and Cindric and Grala to fall back on their speed.

In the ‘500, Regan was collected in a crash on Lap 13, but the other three did great. Grala, led 10 laps, Cindric was a force up front all the way up to the final pit stop and Preece did exactly what they set out to do.

Preece, not only got Duel points (6), he finished second in the first stage to get nine more additional points. He’d finish sixth in his No. 37 Chevrolet.

Cindric, was fifth and 12th respectively in the two stages and finished 15th in his No. 33 Ford.

What a strong showing out of the open cars this week.



NOON START TIMES

I don’t know why I need to keep saying this and I hear their reasoning on why it’s later, but this is getting ridiculous. Yet again, a later start time costs us a scheduled race. If the Daytona 500 started at Noon ET, then by time the lightning then later rain got here, we’d be almost done with the event.

The estimated time of this race is around 3-hours and 38-minutes. If we pushed the green flag up to 12:05 p.m. ET, then this race was going to end somewhere around 3:45 p.m. ET.

We went red for the lightning delay at…3:26 p.m. ET.

While I get the notion that the race could end early due to rain, at least we’re close. I mean, we all know the intensity levels ramp up to new levels with weather in the area. This could have been another chaotic ending to the checkered.

I know that they say that they do this for the west coast viewer because it’s an afternoon start not morning out there, but if that was to truly increase ratings and viewership, then why aren’t the numbers higher? West coast viewers like their morning start time. Almost everyone that I’ve talked to or know from out west like the morning races or football games because they have the rest of their days to do whatever they want.

It’s time to move the start times back up, because this is just yet another example.


Momentum Lost

To further the point above, we had a lot of momentum heading into this year’s race. With this weather, that all went out the window. Same thing happened last year. You had tons of eager anticipation with President Trump in attendance in front of a sold out crowd that was the largest in years here.

The buzz was as big as I’ve ever felt it down here. Then, the race got rained out until Monday and all that luster was gone. The ratings were huge on Sunday, not so much on Monday. It was trending for a big number before the rain ended that.

Well, here we go again.

A new schedule. New teams. New season dubbed the best one yet. This felt a lot like 2001 again to be honest. Then, it all stops after 15 laps and all that prerace momentum is lost.

Earlier start times would help us not lose this much needed momentum.



Cope Proves That Charters Need Some Adjustments

Derrike Cope drew a lot of criticism by having an automatic start in this year’s Daytona 500. Cope, last raced a Cup race in 2018. His last Daytona 500 start at that was 17 years ago. That made some people confused on how he had charter.

Well, it’s not personally his. He does have a charter in part of StarCom’s No. 00 Chevrolet. He’s the general manager of their team. This ride was with Rick Ware Racing. They own four charters and some are pondering how they keep getting more and more charters but putting people like Cope in them.

You have guys like Ty Dillon who is a very talented racer but not in this year’s field because he didn’t take one of the four open spots. He narrowly missed out a spot by inches. You get him going home yet Cope is racing.

Then, Cope gets into the wall from what appeared to be a tire that went down in Turn 4 on just the second lap of the race. Not a good look.

I get the charter aspect. I truly do. While it has made it hard to break into the sport’s premiere series since there’s only 36 of them, it’s also made it more like stick-and-ball sports too. There’s only so many NFL, NBA or MLB teams. Each are privately owned.

Why can’t NASCAR have that?

I get their reasoning behind it and so far I’d say it’s working. The teams all seem to like them so far.

Plus, NASCAR is still drawing attention from new partners wanting to jump in too. We have three new teams alone in the Cup Series this year and two of those are Michael Jordan and Pitbull. They’re replacing some teams that have departed too. So, how can these teams make it to where the past teams didn’t?

That’s the gap that’s needing to be fixed. That’s why drivers like Cope are around and drivers like Ty Dillon aren’t. Cope has funding to get into one of those rides where Dillon doesn’t.

That’s big issue. It’s all money driven. The back marker teams obviously want to win, but they just don’t have the money or resources that it takes to get to the front. The top teams have such a large budget that these smaller teams can’t touch.

So, with a charter owned, they show up but do so with drivers bringing funding to keep this on track. Having a charter helps attract sponsors because it’s a guaranteed spot into a NASCAR race for 36 weeks. So, how do you shorten the gap?

A new car is something that can help and that debuts next year. What’s crazy is, some of these back teams though are making more money in the long run than the top teams. The reason for that is, they’re fully funded with sponsors and not spending as much to get to the end.

By avoiding crash damage, having a lower budget, better purse money and drivers bringing money, they stay well above the red line. The top teams operate in the red a lot.

See, the bigger teams spend millions to stay up front. They’re not operating on much of a profit. The lower teams throw away the chance of a win to turn a larger profit. In turn, you get backmarker pay to play drivers without any shot in hell at winning.

The aesthetics at times looks bad which gets us to Cope crashing on Lap 2 and Ty Dillon not in this year’s race.

Well, NASCAR is going to really start looking into those backmarkers from now on they said. After three years, they can start taking Charters away for the bottom dwellers.

“We want to make sure that everyone is bringing a competitive race car to the racetracks. That is something that we are very keen on having. If you’re not competing, this isn’t the right series for you. You should be competing in a different series.

“There are some things that we are undertaking to try to make sure that if there are folks out there who want to compete, want to buy a charter, that they have the ability to do that.

“We have to make sure that we are putting out the best field that we can. Obviously someone needs to finish 40th, right? But we need to make sure that the ones that are finishing 40th don’t continue to be the same cars that are finishing 40th.

“We will look to see what measures we can put in place. We’ve got some things that we have started to look at to make sure that people are bringing competitive cars and they’re running to the best of their ability.

“We have a contractual obligation with our charter system and our owners. Making changes to it are not easy, right?

W”ith that said, there is a provision in the charter that says you need to come and you need to compete. We need to make sure that is happening.

“Whether there is a change to the bottom three rule moving forward, I think that you all have seen some maneuvering that has gone on with respect to the bottom three rule, the ability to have someone lease a charter. It’s not perfect.

“I think the intention of the bottom three rule and leasing, they were not supposed to be tied. I think it’s an unintended consequence to something that we thought was in the right interest. The reason why we had leasing in the first place was if a team that’s been involved for a long time lost a major sponsor, they’d be able to lease that charter for a year, then have it back when they were able to get the sponsor, a new sponsor on that race car. Don’t want to belabor that point.

“There are things we are looking at, are doing that will ensure that people are competing. They have to compete. They need to be competitive on the racetrack.”

Top Stats

  • Hamlin’s 98 laps led gives him 474 for his Daytona 500 career. That moves him past Jeff Gordon and Bobby Allison for fifth all fine.
  • McDowell becomes the eighth first time Cup winner to accomplish that feat in the Daytona 500 joining Tiny Lund (1963), Mario Andretti (1967), Pete Hamilton (1970), Derike Cope (1990), Sterling Marlin (1994), Michael Waltrip (2001), Trevor Bayne (2001) and now McDowell (2021)
  • McDowell only led 1 lap and becomes the third Daytona 500 winner in the last five years with leading only the last lap.
  • HMS/JGR/Penske only had 1 combined Speedweeks win this year. They had won 27 of the last 30 entering 2021s edition.

Results

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