It took about nine hours to complete but the 2021 edition of the Daytona 500 is in the books as Michael McDowell pulled off one of the biggest upsets in motorsports history by avoiding a fiery crash on the final lap at famed Daytona International Speedway to secure his first-ever NASCAR Cup Series victory after 357 tries.
With the season opener complete, NASCAR will now head…well, nowhere. The drivers will be back at Daytona International Speedway this Sunday for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253, which will take place on the same Daytona road course that was just recently used for the Busch Clash won by Kyle Busch.
So exactly why is NASCAR hosting consecutive Cup Series races at the same venue?
The 2021 Daytona 500 featured a number of big wrecks and a surprise winner
The 2021 edition of the Daytona 500 was certainly a wild one. Just 14 laps into the race, 16 of the 40 cars in the field were involved in a wreck that collected multiple contenders. Just 10 minutes later, a lightning strike began a weather delay that lasted five hours and 40 minutes.
When the race finally restarted under the lights at Daytona International Speedway, it seemed as if Denny Hamlin was on his way to becoming the first driver to win the Daytona 500 three times in a row after winning the first two stages.
However, he ultimately finished fifth as Michael McDowell pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of “The Great American Race” as he was able to avoid a fiery crash on the final lap that knocked out leaders (and teammates) Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.
McDowell, who came into the race as a 100-1 longshot, was a car length in front of Chase Elliott when the seventh caution flag of the race came out, giving him his first victory in 358 NASCAR Cup Series starts, making him the eighth driver in NASCAR history to pick up his first win at the Daytona 500.
NASCAR remains at Daytona International Speedway this week for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253
NASCAR will remain at Daytona International Speedway this week for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253, which will be run on the Daytona 3.61-mile road course that combines the high-banked oval with a winding infield (hooray for right turns).
The race was added to the NASCAR calendar in 2020 due to the pandemic — it was called the Go Bowling 235 last year — and was supposed to simply be a one-off. However, as the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, will not take place this season due to COVID-19 concerns, the race was once again added to the NASCAR schedule for 2021 and moved up since the drivers are already in Daytona anyway.
Five laps were added to the race as well (65 to 70), which is why it’s the 253 this year as opposed to the 235 it was last August, a race which was won by Chase Elliott.
The famed speedway will also host NASCAR’s final regular-season race in 2021
For the second consecutive year, Daytona International Speedway will serve as the host for the final regular-season race on the NASCAR calendar, the Coke Zero Sugar 400, which takes place on Saturday, August 28.
NASCAR typically returned to Daytona in early July but the change was made in 2020 due to the pandemic and remains in effect this season, which makes the race more of a must-see event given it’s the last chance for many drivers to make their way into the NASCAR Cup Championship Playoffs.
Stats and schedule courtesy of NASCAR.com