Roger Diez: McDowell was surprise winner at 500

Another Daytona 500 is in the history books, with another surprise winner.
When Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski took each other out in the last lap run to the checkers, Michael McDowell shot the gap and took his first NASCAR Cup win. McDowell continued the cycle of first-time winners in years ending in the digit one, joining 2011 winner Trevor Bayne and 2001 500 champion Michael Waltrip.
Derrike Cope missed it by one year, scoring his first win in 1990. Cope was also in this year’s race but was the first car eliminated, dropping out on lap four. Ten more cars were eliminated in a lap 14 “big one” including pole sitter Alex Bowman. One lap later the race was red-flagged for lightning followed by rain, resulting in a 5 hour and 40 minute delay. The last lap melee took out another half-dozen cars including Kyle Busch and Bubba Wallace in his new ride.
Denny Hamlin finished on the lead lap in fifth, failing in his bid to threepeat the 500. It was a bad race all around for Team Penske as Daytona Xfinity winner Austin Cindric also fell afoul of the last lap melee and finished 15th after leading two laps. Ryan Blaney, the fourth Penske driver, was a victim of the lap 14 “big one.” Both the Xfinity and Truck races ended in overtime with Ben Rhodes taking the win in the Camping World Truck event.
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This weekend all three NASCAR touring series will be back at Daytona, this time on the road course that was used for the Busch Clash. With the exception of the front straight chicane it’s the same course used for the Rolex 24. NASCAR has also revised the back straight “bus stop” chicane to minimize cars spreading grass and dirt onto the track.
Chase Elliott has a lot of recent experience at the 3.61 mile road/oval course, having raced in both the Clash and the Rolex enduro. After finishing second last Sunday, Elliott will start on the pole for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253. Daytona winner McDowell, an accomplished road racer and winner of the 2016 Road America Xfinity race, will start alongside.
Elliott, of course, is the oddsmakers’ favorite to win at 2-1 odds. Given his experience on this track and his recent road course winning record, I’m surprised it’s not even odds. Martin Truex Jr. is at 4-1, Denny Hamlin 10-1, and the trio of Kevin Harvick, Blaney, and Kyle Busch 12-1. The Penske duo of Keselowski and Logano, along with AJ Allmendinger in a one-off Cup start, are 14-1. Hendrick drivers William Byron at 20-1 and Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson are at 25-1. The Xfinity series races today at 2 p.m. on FOX Sports 1, and NASCAR Cup coverage starts at noon Sunday on FOX.
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In other racing news, there are rumblings (literally) from the Formula 1 camp. Mercedes has fired up their 2021 power unit and McLaren, also using Mercedes power this year, conducted their first shakedown runs. The McLaren team was the first to introduce their 2021 car last week, and on Tuesday the cars underwent runs at Silverstone on a cold, wet, windy day.
Daniel Ricciardo has joined the team and is looking forward to building on McLaren’s progress from last season. With Ricciardo and the much-improved Lando Norris as drivers this year, McLaren could be poised to challenge Mercedes and Red Bull for F1 dominance. Mercedes’ Louis Hamilton will be back for at least one more season, recently signing a one-year contract with Mercedes. However, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff expressed a “long term” commitment to his star driver. Stay tuned.

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