Wow… what an incredible finish. After six hours of fans eagerly awaiting for the green flag to drop after a fifteen lap stint in the afternoon, Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell found himself in the right place at the right time to win his first race ever. The driver of the #34 won the 63rd annual running of the Great American Race, the Daytona 500, motorsports’ peak event.
First of all, congratulations to McDowell. The 36-year-old from Phoenix, Arizona has been Cup racing since 2008, and finally captured his first win on the biggest stage of them all. A life changing moment, and one he’ll never forget.
Now, for those unfamiliar with NASCAR, McDowell has never been in competitive, winning-caliber equipment. At a Superspeedway like Daytona, it doesn’t take a really good car to win, but it does take lots of luck. Not taking anything away from the win, but here’s where my problem is. With this win, he’s locked himself into the sixteen car playoff format, and is taking away a spot from a deserving car that has a chance at winning races and competing for the championship. There are more competitive cars than ever this year, and having a car that’s almost guaranteed to be a first round like exit like the #34 has to be a tough pill to swallow for the teams that’ll miss out solely based on points.
Understand McDowell has to finish top 30 in points to maintain that spot, but that probably shouldn’t be a problem. His team, no matter how well they execute though, will never have the raw speed of anyone in the top twenty in points. In a sixteen car playoff field, it’s a terrible rule that you’re locked in after a Superspeedway win which takes lots of luck and little pure talent. Again, don’t take anything away from the victory as it is a career defining moment as it may be his only win ever, but guaranteeing him that playoff spot seems wrong.
Another controversial decision was not allowing the field to race back to the line on the last lap. Obviously the crash between Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Austin Cindric, Bubba Wallace, Kyle Larson and several others was horrible and thankfully the AMR Safety Team was on it right away, but there was no obstruction in the tri-oval. This would’ve allowed for reigning series champion Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, McDowell, Kevin Harvick and three-time Daytona 500 champ Denny Hamlin to battle it out coming to the checked flag. This would’ve been an amazing finish for one, draw tremendous ratings, and likely would’ve put the most popular driver in Chase Elliott, and former 500 winners Dillon and Hamlin in very good positions to win. The argument here is that it was unsafe to continue under green, which I get, but also reminds me of last year‘s race. Ryan Newman went up and over in a crash that almost took his life, but they finished under green. For a crash on the back straightaway, albeit scary and could’ve ended much worse, I doubt they absolutely needed a caution there with the race coming to a close.
All in all, this Daytona 500 wasn’t that good as much as it hurts to say. They ran fifteen laps in the afternoon, Christopher Bell got into Aric Almirola causing “The Big One,” then they red-flagged the race for close to six hours because of rain. Once they went green again, it was mostly single-file racing with moves only being made with less than five laps to go in each stage, making for some pretty boring racing. Plate races have been exciting in recent memory, so this was a bit underwhelming.
Congratulations to Michael McDowell though, and next Sunday they’ll be back at Daytona International Speedway, but this time they’ll be on the road course at 3 pm on FOX.
Photo credit: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images