Michael McDowell won the first Daytona 500 of his career and prevented history in the process.
It appeared as if Denny Hamlin was going to become the first NASCAR driver in the sport's history to win the Daytona 500 three years in a row when he won the first two stages and held a lead heading into the stretch run, but Joey Logano and others passed him with 25 laps remaining to set up a dramatic finish.
Hamlin joined Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Sterling Marlin as back-to-back champions at Daytona International Speedway who failed to three-peat in the Great American Race.
McDowell earned the checkered flag at the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season-opening event Sunday in stunning fashion, as it appeared as if Logano were going to win on the last lap. However, Logano and Brad Keselowski collided on the final push, which led to a multi-car pileup.
NASCAR reviewed the situation and determined McDowell was the winner, which was the first Cup Series victory of his career.
Here is a look at the top five, per NASCAR.com:
1. Michael McDowell
2. Chase Elliott
3. Austin Dillon
4. Kevin Harvick
5. Denny Hamlin
It was a head-turning finish, but it didn't take long for chaos to reign in this year's edition of the famed race.
Christopher Bell pushed Aric Almirola on Lap 15, which sparked a massive 16-car pileup that knocked out a number of contenders, including pole-sitter Alex Bowman. Martin Truex Jr., Jamie McMurray, William Byron, Matt Dibenedetto, Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick and Ryan Newman were among those involved in the wreck.
Aric Almirola @Aric_Almirola
Totally bummed to wreck out of the #Daytona500 so early in the race. My team gave me an amazing car... one that was certainly capable of winning. Unfortunately today wasn't our day. We'll have many more fast race cars & I’m looking forward to capitalizing on those opportunities. https://t.co/CsBGPAS5Ax
What's more, a weather delay that lasted nearly six hours shortly followed.
Once the weather delay ended, Almirola, Bowman, Blaney, Newman, Derrike Cope, Daniel Suarez, David Ragan and Erik Jones were all out of the race. Chris Buescher, DiBenedetto and Anthony Alfredo were also ruled out as the race started, and Quin Houff ran into trouble during Stage 1 and was eliminated.
Despite all of the drama, the status quo prevailed in the early going when Hamlin won Stage 1 and earned the corresponding playoff point.
It was fitting considering he was directly involved in two of the biggest storylines coming into the race. Not only was he going for a three-peat, but he and Michael Jordan are also the co-owners of 23XI Racing with Bubba Wallace behind the wheel.
Wallace, who is the only Black full-time driver at the sport's top level and sparked progress by successfully calling for NASCAR to ban the display of Confederate flags at racetracks last year, was also in the top 10 after Stage 1.
Wallace nearly won Stage 2 in a battle with Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, but the No. 11 car held him off and won yet another playoff point. It was a testament to Hamlin's ability, especially in Daytona, that he maneuvered his way back to the front of the pack on the final lap of the stage.
The stage was defined by concerns about visibility in the fog; a wreck involving Bell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Larson; and Kaz Grala's right rear tire catching on fire. Larson's car suffered right-side damage and a flat tire, while Grala's car needed fire extinguishers.
There wasn't much drama in the early portion of Stage 3 with Hamlin cruising so much he asked his team how many laps he led.
However, he lost that lead to Logano and others with 25 laps remaining and was never able to make up the gap. McDowell was the ultimate benefactor and earned the first Cup Series victory of his career.