Michael McDowell stormed through a crash scene to win the Daytona 500, snapping an 0-for-357 streak with a fiery pileup in his rearview mirror.
McDowell led just the final lap– maybe half of it, really – when Brad Keselowski turned teammate Joey Logano as the Team Penske drivers jockeyed for the victory.
McDowell stayed flat in the gas and plowed past the two spinning cars to the lead, then won a three-wide drag race until Nascar threw a race-ending caution.
It was mayhem behind McDowell as a huge pack of cars could not avoid Keselowski and Logano. The collisions were one on top of another, flames erupting all over Daytona International Speedway as the race came to a close early Monday morning, nearly nine hours after it began.
McDowell, a 36-year-old journeyman from Arizona, was a 100-1 underdog at the start of the race and seemed in disbelief after taking his first checkered flag.
“So many years just grinding it out hoping for an opportunity like this,” McDowell said. “We’re the Daytona 500 champions. I cannot believe this. Luckily was able to make it through.”
A rain delay of almost six hours pushed the race into the night and under the lights, albeit without almost half the field. A 16-car accident just 15 laps into the race — moments before the rain — thinned the contenders and set up a showdown between Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.
Hamlin and Harvick had the two best cars but pit strategy ended Hamlin’s shot at winning a record third-consecutive Daytona 500.
Reigning Cup Series champion Chase Elliott finished second and 2018 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon was third. Harvick finished fourth, and Hamlin was fifth after leading a race-high 98 laps.
Christopher Bell had started the earlier melee when he pushed Almirola too hard near the front of the field and forced the Stewart-Haas Racing driver to bobble as he tried to avoid a slide. Almirola ended up turning right into Bowman. Their contact cause others to collide, sending them spinning and skidding through grass and mud. Martin Truex Jr, Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch were among those involved.
“We were just getting pushed too hard too early,” Almirola told Nascar.com. “It’s a long, long race. Man, we were in a fine position, just sitting there riding around in the top two, three and the [Christopher Bell] just came with a big run and hit me really hard in a bad spot and it turned me to the right and tore up our race car and ended our Daytona 500 way too early.”
Newman was nearly killed in a horrific accident on the last lap of last year’s Daytona 500. Newman walked away safely on Sunday and even checked on Busch as he sat in his Chevy.