Michael McDowell had a plan going into the Daytona 500. But plans, as McDowell knows, can change or just not work.
“My plan was to be in the top lane running third when we took the white flag and to not make a move until we got to Turn 3,” McDowell deadpanned in the early morning hours of Monday. “It just happened that we were in the top lane and running third, and it all kind of played out…”
Whatever McDowell’s actual plan was no longer matters. The Front Row Motorsports driver won the 63rd annual Daytona 500 after splitting the two Team Penske drivers when all broke loose in Turn 3. However, McDowell did admit he was committed to Brad Keselowski and was pushing the No. 2 before disaster struck.
“The last lap, you just lock bumpers and push as hard as you can,” said McDowell. “I gave him a shove, but we actually got disconnected, and thankfully we did because it’s when we got disconnected – and I didn’t see how Joey and Brad got together – but it’s when we got disconnected that the contact was made and that gave me a little bit of a gap. Otherwise I would have been right on (Keselowski).
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 15, 2021
“The way these runs work, sometimes, when you hit a guy, you kind of push him out a little bit, and you get detached from him. Brad and I had a great run, and I was on his bumper; but then he pulled down, and I got a little bit detached from him. And then him and the 22 (Logano) got together.”
Neither Logano nor Keselowski placed direct blame on anyone. Keselowski’s frustration stemmed from being in the position he wanted and so close to possibly winning the Daytona 500 for the first time. He threw his helmet at his Ford after climbing out of the mangled machine.
Kevin Harvick wasn’t surprised to see McDowell in that position because he felt McDowell was the best pusher and had been told as much by his team. McDowell stuck with Keselowski when Brad pulled out of the freight train with two laps to go, moving from fourth to second. McDowell advanced to third and was then able to capitalize on the final lap.
McDowell also felt he had a good pushing car. Its performance in the Thursday Duel race left him feeling confident it was the most competitive car that his small team has had. Most importantly, McDowell was pleased with how it sucked up in the draft and its ability to stay close to another car.
“I didn’t feel great leading,” McDowell said. “I tried to pull out in front of Brad there at the end of (one) stage and tried to get to the front, and wasn’t quite able to do it. From that, I was able to learn, ‘All right, I am going to stay pushing, and I’m going to be behind a good car that’s going to be close to the front and hopefully be in a position to do it.’”
When all was said and done, McDowell became a NASCAR Cup Series winner for the first time. Having a plan worked, and while he wasn’t exactly where he wanted to be, McDowell knew staying with Keselowski would give him an opportunity.
“The hole happened on its own. I can’t even tell you what happened,” he said. “Brad and I pulled down with a run, and next thing you know, Brad was turning right, Joey was turning left, and I went right through the middle of it.
“I looked in my mirror, and I saw Chase Elliott with a run, and I went up there and blocked him as fast as I could, and we made a little bit of contact, and I didn’t see anything else from that point. It’s just kind of a blur from there.”