DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — Michael McDowell stormed through a crash scene to win the Daytona 500, snapping an 0-for-357 streak with a fiery pileup in his rearview mirror.
It was mayhem behind McDowell as a huge pack of cars crashed in the last lap. The collisions were one on top of another, flames erupting all over Daytona International Speedway as the race came to a close early Monday morning, nearly nine hours after it began.
McDowell, a 36-year-old journeyman from Arizona, was a 100-1 underdog at the start of the race and seemed in disbelief after taking his first checkered flag.
“So many years just grinding it out hoping for an opportunity like this,” McDowell said. “We’re the Daytona 500 champions. I cannot believe this. Luckily was able to make it through.”
Reigning Cup Series champion Chase Elliott finished second and 2018 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon was third. Kevin Harvick finished fourth, and Denny Hamlin was fifth after leading a race-high 98 laps.
A rain delay of almost six hours pushed the race into the night and under the lights, albeit without almost half the field. A 16-car accident just 15 laps into the race — moments before the rain — thinned the contenders and set up a showdown between Harvick and Hamlin.
The crash involved Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Daniel Suarez, Matt DiBenedetto and Tyler Reddick, among others. Seven drivers had been confirmed to be done for the day: Almirola, Bowman, Suarez, Newman, Erik Jones, David Ragan and Derrike Cope. Cope, the 1990 Daytona 500 winner, crashed on Lap 3 following an apparent tire failure.
“We were just getting pushed too hard too early,” Almirola said, per NBC Sports. “It’s a long, long race. Man, we were in a fine position, just sitting there riding around in the top two, three and the 20 (Bell) just came with a big run and hit me really hard in a bad spot and it turned me to the right and tore up our race car and ended our Daytona 500 way too early.”
Before the race, 10 cars were moved to the rear of the field after failing pre-race inspection.
Among them was the No. 23 car driven by Bubba Wallace, which failed the inspection twice. Wallace was set to start sixth in the first NASCAR Cup race for his new team, 23XI Racing, which is owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin.
Because of the multiple failures, car chief Greg Emmer was ejected.
Wallace was the runner-up to Austin Dillon in the 2018 Daytona 500.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.