Michael McDowell wins rain-delayed Daytona 500 after last-lap wreck

  • Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, Austin Cindric, driver of the #33 Verizon 5G Ford, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, are involved in an on-track incident during the 63rd annual NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

  • A general view of the start of the 63rd annual NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

  • The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform a flyover prior to the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

  • Fans hold up three fingers during a lap three tribute honoring the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr., during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. Dale Earnhardt, Sr., the all-time winner at Daytona, was killed in a fatal car crash at the speedway 20-years ago today. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • A fan holds up three fingers during a lap three tribute honoring the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr., during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. Dale Earnhardt, Sr., the all-time winner at Daytona, was killed in a fatal car crash at the speedway 20-years ago today. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • CORRECTS TO 14TH LAP, NOT 13TH AS ORIGINALLY SENT – Cars collide on the 14th lap during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Ryan Newman, driver of the #6 Kohler Generators Ford, William Byron, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, Tyler Reddick, driver of the #8 Lenovo Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, Chris Buescher, driver of the #17 Fastenal Ford, and David Ragan, driver of the #36 Select Blinds Ford, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Ryan Newman, driver of the #6 Kohler Generators Ford, Erik Jones, driver of the #43 Armor All Chevrolet, David Ragan, driver of the #36 Select Blinds Ford, Matt DiBenedetto, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford, and William Byron, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

  • CORRECTS TO 14TH LAP, NOT 13TH AS ORIGINALLY SENT – Cars collide on the 14th lap during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • CORRECTS TO 14TH LAP, NOT 13TH AS ORIGINALLY SENT – Cars collide on the 14th lap during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • CORRECTS TO 14TH LAP, NOT 13TH AS ORIGINALLY SENT – Cars collide on the 14th lap during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • CORRECTS TO 14TH LAP, NOT 13TH AS ORIGINALLY SENT – Cars collide on the 14th lap during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Kurt Busch, driver of the #1 Monster Energy Chevrolet, Matt DiBenedetto, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford, Chris Buescher, driver of the #17 Fastenal Ford, and Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Ryan Newman, driver of the #6 Kohler Generators Ford, William Byron, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, Tyler Reddick, driver of the #8 Lenovo Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, Chris Buescher, driver of the #17 Fastenal Ford, and David Ragan, driver of the #36 Select Blinds Ford, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 iFly Chevrolet, Aric Almirola, driver of the #10 Smithfield Ford, Chris Buescher, driver of the #17 Fastenal Ford, and Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Blue DEF/PEAK Ford, drive after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Aric Almirola, driver of the #10 Smithfield Ford, and Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 iFly Chevrolet, drive after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

  • A fan waits during a weather delay in the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Race fans seek shelter during a rain delay at the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

  • Drivers return to their cars after a weather delay during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Michael McDowell, driver of the #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Light #TheCrew Ford, race during the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

  • Denny Hamlin makes a pit stop during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 DoorDash Toyota, pits during the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

  • Denny Hamlin wins the first stage during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

  • Denny Hamlin wins the first stage during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Denny Hamlin wins the second stage ahead of Kevin Harvick during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 DoorDash Toyota, Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Light #TheCrew Ford, race during the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

  • Racers crash during the last lap in the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. Michael McDowell, left, went on to win the race. Michael McDowell, left, went on to win the race. Among the other drivers are Joey Logano (22), Brad Keselowski (2) and Kyle Busch (18). (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 DoorDash Toyota, Austin Cindric, driver of the #33 Verizon 5G Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 DoorDash Toyota, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, are involved in an on-track incident the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, Austin Cindric, driver of the #33 Verizon 5G Ford, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Austin Cindric, driver of the #33 Verizon 5G Ford, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, Austin Cindric, driver of the #33 Verizon 5G Ford, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 DoorDash Toyota, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: <>during the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: The NASCAR Safety crew assist Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, after the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, reacts after are involved in an on-track incident after the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

  • Michael McDowell, left, wins the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Michael McDowell crosses the finish line ahead of Austin Dillon to win the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Toyota, speaks to the media after the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Michael McDowell, driver of the #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Michael McDowell, driver of the #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

  • DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 14: Michael McDowell, driver of the #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Michael McDowell was glued to Brad Keselowski’s bumper, watching and waiting for his chance to win the Daytona 500.

Joey Logano was the leader, the laps were winding down and yet no one had the nerve to pull out of traffic. McDowell was certain Keselowski would go for it eventually, and when he did, McDowell would play his hand.

On the final lap, Keselowski attempted to dart around Logano, but Logano threw a block on his teammate that crashed them both. McDowell stayed right where he was, flat in the gas, and drove through a crash scene for a stunning upset.

“I knew he would go for a race-winning move and my plan was to let him make that move,” McDowell said. ”I knew I didn’t want to make my move too early, so I was committed to the (Keselowski) bumper and when he made the move, the hole opened up.”

A 100-1 underdog when the race began Sunday afternoon, McDowell won for the first time in 358 Cup starts when the checkered flag finally flew about 15 minutes after midnight. The race was stopped by rain for almost six hours and ended nine hours after the green flag waved at Daytona International Speedway.

“There’s been lots of years where I was wondering what the heck am I doing and why am I doing it?” McDowell said. “I always knew if I just kept grinding that one day everything will line up and go right.”

NASCAR’s season opener was stacked with storylines. Denny Hamlin was trying for a record third consecutive Daytona 500 victory, and the team he started with Michael Jordan was debuting with driver Bubba Wallace.

Kyle Larson was back after nearly a year in exile for using a racial slur, and reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott was going for his first Daytona 500 win.

And all the way at the back of the field, 1990 Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope made what he said would be his final NASCAR start. At 62 he was the oldest driver in the field, and his upset victory 31 years ago was considered the biggest in race history.

McDowell didn’t take that title from Cope, partly because McDowell is a strong superspeedway racer capable of mixing it up with the usual suspects. If he could ever find himself in the right place at the right time, McDowell figured he could steal a win.

“It’s been a tough road for me. I’ve had to spend a lot of years grinding it out,” McDowell said. His career has been stabilized by four seasons driving for Front Row Motorsports, a tiny team in the Ford family that can hold its own at Daytona.

McDowell was in the mix even before the two Penske cars derailed the finish. His Ford was strong enough to push Keselowski, and McDowell figured with the checkered flag in sight, he’d try to pass Keselowski as they exited the final turn.

Logano’s block of Keselowski – it seemed late, Keselowski had already started to pull alongside his teammate – triggered a fiery multi-car pileup that was in McDowell’s rearview mirror.

“Brad was turning right, Joey was turning left and I went right through the middle,” McDowell said. “It’s just kind of a blur from there.”

Keselowski subtly blamed Logano for the messy finish.

“I wanted to make the pass to win the Daytona 500 and it ended up really bad,” Keselowski said. “I don’t feel like I made a mistake, but I can’t drive everybody else’s car. So frustrating.”

Logano had no explanation for the ending.

”Pandemonium, I guess. Chaos struck,” said Logano, who then praised McDowell. “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.

“If we couldn’t win, I’m really happy to see McDowell win this thing.”

McDowell, who led less than half of a lap, drag-raced Elliott and Austin Dillon until NASCAR finally called a caution.

A batch of solid contenders were knocked from the race just 15 laps in by a 16-car accident that began at the front of the field. It thinned the pack and set up a showdown between Kevin Harvick and Hamlin.

Hamlin and Harvick had the two best cars but pit strategy ended Hamlin’s shot at winning a record third consecutive Daytona 500. The Ford drivers pitted first as a group, followed by the Chevrolets a lap later and finally the Toyotas.

But the Toyota group has just five cars and they couldn’t group back together to reclaim control of the race. It put Logano, Keselowski and the Ford drivers out front, and Logano led the final 25 laps until Keselowski made his move.

McDowell held off Elliott and Dillon. Harvick finished fourth, and Hamlin was fifth after leading a race-high 98 laps.

Only 11 cars finished on the lead lap.

WALLACE MAKES HISTORY

Bubba Wallace ran into trouble early and late in his first Daytona 500 driving for Michael Jordan.

He still came out of NASCAR’s marquee race with another milestone, becoming the first Black driver to lead a lap in the Daytona 500.

Wallace dipped to the low line late in the second stage to grab the lead on lap 129 in the No. 23 Toyota. He lost the lead back to Hamlin – who co-owns 23XI with Jordan – and ran third at the end of the stage.

Wallace got caught up in the fiery, chaotic last lap and finished 17th.

“Bum end. I bailed out down the back saw the wreck happening and got run over from behind. Should’ve bailed sooner,” Wallace tweeted. “Fast car, can’t have loose wheels. Onto the right turns.”

Wallace was forced to pit with 22 laps left in the race because he felt a vibration because of the loose wheel in the Toyota. He fell a lap down and pushed Hamlin to give his boss and Toyota teammate a nudge toward his run at a record third straight Daytona 500 championship.

“We worked together quite a few times,” Hamlin said. “I actually thought he was going to win the second stage.”

Wallace finished second in the 2018 Daytona 500 for the highest finish in the race by a Black driver.

Wallace had a solid first two-thirds of the rain-delayed race.

“He was running up front and battling for stage wins. That’s what we want to see,” Hamlin said.

Jordan’s No. 23 Toyota failed inspection twice before the race, prompting NASCAR to kick the team’s car chief out off the grounds. The car passed on the third attempt, but had to start from the back of the field. Jordan watched the beginning of the race from a luxury suite.

Wallace was winless in his first 112 career Cup starts, all driving the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports. Wallace is the only Black full-time driver at NASCAR’s top level and raised his profile last summer when he successfully called for the series to ban the display of Confederate flags at racetracks. His activism caught the attention of corporate America, which raised enough funding through five companies to sponsor the entire Cup season.

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