McDowell’s final lap bump and run ruffles no feathers

If it had been almost any other driver a great deal more anger might have been on display as part of the post-race activities in Sunday’s NASCAR Daytona 500, which actually ended Monday morning.

But there weren’t.

There were no cuss words, no fists, nothing save for a few hurt feelings perhaps. Michael McDowell won his first NASCAR Cup series race in stunning fashion on the final lap of the Daytona 500, arguably the sport’s biggest stage. He did so with a last lap pass while running third as the field entered turn 3.

Entering the turn, McDowell pushed his Ford into the Ford of Brad Keselowski who was running second. Keselowski made contact with the leader who happened to be his Team Penske colleague Joey Logano sending both into a spin. That set off a fiery chain reaction crash that swept up Kyle Busch and Austin Cindric and ended with all four cars in the wall rocketing through a fire ball. McDowell slipped by underneath and the caution soon waved freezing he field and handing the win to McDowell.

“My plan was to stick to the 2 car,” McDowell said. “I knew he would go for a race-winning move and my plan was to let him make that move and then coming off of four try to get to his outside or inside.  I knew I didn’t want to make my move too early, so I was committed to the 2 car’s bumper and when he made the move, the hole opened up. “

The only visible display of anger came from Keselowski who threw his helmet at what was left of his car.

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

Despite the push from McDowell that seemed to set off the melee, Joey Logano the leader at that point didn’t seem to upset.

“It’s a real bummer that none of the Penske cars won,” Logano said. “But at least a Ford won and I’m really happy for McDowell.  I hate that we didn’t win with our Shell/Pennzoil Mustang.  I feel like we had a great shot being where we were and leading on the last lap, but if we couldn’t win I’m really happy to see McDowell win this thing.  He’s a great guy, a great person, a good leader in life and has helped me a lot in my life, so it’s very cool to see him win the Daytona 500.”

Replays showed that maybe McDowell had a push from behind that built the momentum up that sent McDowell into Keselowski. That push came from the driver that would end up in second, Chase Elliott, who summed up why no one in the field seemed upset with McDowell.

“He certainly has stuck around over the years and battled hard through the course of his career,” Elliott said. “I think you can’t help but respect the fact that he’s still pushing and trying to have success here at this level. Yeah, I respect it, I’m happy for him, and I hope he enjoys it.”

Denny Hamlin was looking to score his third consecutive Daytona 500 and for much of the race looked like he could pull it off. Hamlin won the first two stages and led a race high 98 laps. He fell short of the win and had to settle for fifth. Even in his disappointment at the finish, he was quick to defend McDowell.

“I admire him as a person,” Hamlin said. “I think he’s a great guy and certainly deserving of this.”

“It’s definitely no fluke,” he added. “I certainly hope it’s not like ‘look anybody can win’. No look he’s been in the top five so many times at the superspeedway races, it’s no fluke. I’ve said many times, this is a skill game and he’s got the skill and skill set to win these and he finally got it done.”

When the sun came up Monday morning, McDowell was still celebrating. He said he had talked to Logano after the race, but not Keselowski.

“I haven’t talked to Brad, but Joey came and saw me in victory lane,” he said. “Honestly, he was just so happy for me.  Obviously, he wanted to win the race, but he just came up and congratulated me and just told me that I deserved it and how amazing it was that I get to experience this, and he said it’s the last lap of the Daytona 500, I don’t expect you to lift and I don’t expect Brad to lift.  Just soak it all in and don’t worry about what happened on the racetrack because all of us would have done the same thing.”