This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.
NASCAR's biggest race, the Daytona 500, got off to a stuttered start Sunday with just 15 laps completed before a 16-car wreck brought out the caution. Shortly after, rain and lightning produced the red flag. Crews battled the weather the rest of the evening before the clouds parted and the track dried. Once racing resumed, it was Denny Hamlin who looked every bit the favorite to win his third consecutive February classic. Instead, a last-lap crash opened the door to a shock win from veteran Michael McDowell. It was the first series win for the sixth-year driver, and it came on the sport's biggest stage. McDowell only had three career top-five finishes before Sunday's triumph and now he finds himself looking ahead to his first championship playoff appearance, too. The win was the third for the Front Row Motorsports organization, their first since Chris Buescher won a rain-shortened race at Pocono in 2016.
There is little time to celebrate, as the NASCAR schedule picks up again this week back at Daytona. This week's round will be the second regular-season race on the road course and the second race for NASCAR in a month after the annual Busch Clash exhibition race last week. Chase Elliott dominated last season's race and nearly won the Clash, too. However, contact with Ryan Blaney in the final turn opened the door for Kyle Busch to sneak through and make an early 2021 visit to Victory Lane.
Michael McDowell – As we pointed out