DAYTONA BEACH, Fla —The pay window was open and Michael McDowell cashed in on the final lap of Sunday’s 63rd annual Daytona 500. A 66-1 betting line makes him an underdog winner by definition. He’s a deserving winner though and one that should be actually be applauded. McDowell has always been a good superspeedway racer and always on the cusp of victory on them.
Last night, the stars finally aligned and was a stellar win for an all around good guy of the sport. Now saying that, does this win tarnish the Daytona 500 a bit or instead do the opposite — make it even greater?
Case for Tarnish
In the case of tarnishing it, the Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s Super Bowl. It’s their biggest race of the year. It’s an event to where legends of the sport are made. You have Petty, Earnhardt, Allison, Yarborough, Jarrett, Waltrip, Gordon, Johnson, Hamlin, etc all as winners. But, do fluke winners dilute this star studded list?
A Daytona 500 champion should be a special class of drivers. It’s like the Hall of Fame. You don’t just let anyone in that fraternity. Does the somewhat recent nature of what some consider fluke winners dilute this?
Out of the 63 year history of this race, we’ve had just eight drivers now earn their first career Cup win in it. Really, this all was predicated by the restrictor plate era. There were only nine drivers combined between the ‘500 and the ‘400 to notch their first career Cup victories at the World Center of Racing prior to the restricted air on these cars. There’s been 12 in the 33 years since, with three now coming in the last four seasons.
The thing is, out of the 21 first time Cup winners to occur in Daytona, 13 of which occurred during the ‘400. For the Daytona 500, the list is just Tiny Lund (1963), Mario Andretti (1967), Pete Hamilton (1970), Derrike Cope (1990), Sterling Marlin (1994, Michael Waltrip (2001), Trevor Bayne (2011) and now McDowell.
Lund, Andretti and Hamilton would make names for themselves. Hamilton only made 64 career Cup starts but he won four of them. Lund and Andretti don’t require further assessment.
Cope stole a win in 1990. He’d only win twice in 428 career Cup starts. Bayne, won in just his second career start in 2011 but hasn’t won in the 185 starts since. Waltrip, was 0-for-462 before his triumph. He did win another Daytona 500 and look vastly improved with DEI than he was before. Then you get McDowell who was 0-for-357 prior to his triumph.
Does this hurt the cause for the Daytona 500 winners fraternity? The races are being won by a more random nature than skill. My question is, does this dilute it?
Three of the last five years the winner led one lap, the final one. As Hamlin said Sunday night, he was “too far out front.”
He had the fastest car by a mile. He has the most skill in the field. He led 98 laps. Since when in racing is being too far in the lead a bad thing?
It is in superspeedway races though. You need drafting help to win them.
Also, does NASCAR wish that they didn’t throw the yellow out so quick? Yes, it was a scary crash and I get the notion to throw the yellow out once we saw flames and chaos. In hindsight, everyone was okay and if the yellow doesn’t fly, Chase Elliott likely wins this race.
Doesn’t the defending series champion and three-time defending Most Popular Driver winning the Great American Race punch more weight than McDowell?
If the answer is yes, then doesn’t that answer the question of this topic? This is one of the only four races on the schedule to where literally everyone can win. Does that now deserve the praise of the biggest race if that’s the case?
The Case For It Adding To The Prestige
This piece is to just make you think so there’s no right or wrong answer to this. But, I can also make a case to where McDowell’s heroics on Sunday night add to the Daytona 500 lore too. The randomness nature of speedway racing makes winning here feel like you hit the lottery. That too can lead to an overwhelming feeling of joy because imagine your feeling if you did in fact hit the lottery personally.
That plus the race being dubbed the Daytona 500 gives you a large sense of joy. The fact that anyone can win this race and you have to be more lucky than anything else makes this overwhelmingly tougher to win. The four superspeedway races are the toughest races to win on the schedule as a result. Shouldn’t that punch weight too?
This race should be hard to win. It’s the biggest race. It shouldn’t be easy. That’s also why McDowell’s win should be praised. It shows how difficult it is to win here. The top drivers aren’t guaranteed a win and the levels the playing field for everyone.
Doesn’t that hold some merit?
Some of the greats have never won this race. It took Earnhardt 20 years of trying. Waltrip took almost two decades himself. Terry Labone finished 0-for-32. Rusty Wallace was 0-for-23. Mark Martin was 0-for-29. Tony Stewart ended 0-for-17. These are Hall of Famers.
Martin Truex Jr. is 0-for-17 now. Kyle Busch is 0-for-16 and Brad Keselowski 0-for-12.
This club doesn’t just let anyone in is the point. McDowell earned his way in fair and square. That to me holds weight too.
That’s why this is an interesting topic and I’m curious which side of the fence the race fans are on.