Daytona Beach, Florida — Somebody had to make a move to win the Daytona 500, and maybe Michael McDowell would have pulled out of traffic to take his shot at a monster upset. McDowell never had to play his hand.
He navigated through a stunning, fiery, final-lap crash involving Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch to pull off a huge upset early Monday morning. It was the journeyman's first career NASCAR Cup Series win in his 14th season, notes CBS Sports.
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.
"So many years just grinding it out and hoping for an opportunity like this," McDowell said. "Such a great way to get a first victory - a Daytona 500. Are you kidding me?"
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.
Hamlin led for almost half the race but wound up finishing fifth, CBS Sports reported, adding that three other drivers before him -- Sterling Marlin (1994, 1995), Cale Yarborough (1983, 1984) and Richard Petty (1973, 1974) -- won the Daytona 500 in back-to-back years.
Kyle Larson was back after nearly a year in exile for using a racial slur, and reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott tried 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 challenge Cope for that distinction because McDowell is considered a talented superspeedway racer who just needed to be in the right place to finally win.
He watched and waited as he trailed Team Penske teammates Logano and Keselowski, and it was Keselowski who finally broke free from the parade of cars. Keselowski tried to pass Logano, but the teammates made contact, triggering a melee all over Daytona International Speedway.
"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," he said.
It was indeed mayhem once McDowell cleared the crash. The collisions were one on top of another, flames erupting all over the track as McDowell 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 that thinned the pack.