The post-Daytona 500 power ranking is the result of a wild and crazy NASCAR Cup Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway with all the highs and lows of victory and defeat.
In a race as crazy as the 2021 Daytona 500, it seems only fitting a driver such as Michael McDowell should come out on top.
Following an early wreck that claimed contenders such as Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr., Matt DiBenedetto, and William Byron, the race went into a rain delay that lasted over five hours. The early wreck brought about a lengthy run of single-file racing, with the remaining drivers just trying to maintain position and conserve their cars.
When the white flag came out, however, there was no holding back. Teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano crashed while battling for the lead, with McDowell squeaking through and holding off Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon for his first career victory. Naturally, this is causing a significant shake-up in the first in-season NASCAR Cup Series power ranking of the new season.
NOTE: Analytic stats such as green flag passes, quality passes, and driver rating obtained from RacingReference.com loop data.
1. Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4)
Last Week: 1
Daytona 500 Result: 4th
It isn’t necessarily a flashy race for Harvick, but he did exactly what he’s expected to do; run near the front, stay out of trouble, and bring home a solid finish. Harvick led 17 laps with a finish inside the top-five, giving himself a nice start to the season after a turbulent Busch Clash at the road course. Harvick isn’t the greatest road course racer, but this start gives him a nice cushion heading into next week’s race.
2. Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports No. 9)
Last Week: 2
Daytona 500 Result: 2nd
Though Elliott missed out on a Daytona 500 win by about one foot, his second-place finish ends the defending champion’s long-lasting bad luck streak at Daytona. In fact, Elliott’s runner-up result is his first top-ten in the Daytona 500. This result allows him to pile up some points, and Elliott is licking his chops heading into a track where he is the odds-on favorite.
3. Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11)
Last Week: 4
Daytona 500 Result: 5th
Coming into the race, Hamlin had a chance to become the first-ever driver to win three consecutive Daytona 500s, and for a while, he looked like the favorite to do so. Hamlin led 98 laps and took both stages, dominating the early portions of the race. Unfortunately, he is the victim of a poorly organized Toyota pit stop sequence, which put him at the back of the lead draft coming to the finish. It is still a good points-paying day for the No. 11 team, and he was able to bring home a nice top-five finish.
4. Brad Keselowski (Team Penske No. 2)
Last Week: 3
Daytona 500 Result: 13th
Keselowski was put into a bit of a lose-lose situation on the final lap of the 500. He either had to go for the win, knowing that teammate Joey Logano would likely throw a late block, or bailout of the bottom line and likely give up his shot at the checkered flag. Keselowski went for the win and was involved in a fiery crash that again denied him a chance at his first Daytona 500 victory. That being said, he was in contention for the win, and stayed out of trouble until the very end, making it a pretty successful race for the No. 2.
5. Joey Logano (Team Penske No. 22)
Last Week: 6
Daytona 500 Result: 12th
As mentioned above, Logano wasn’t able to hold onto his last lap lead. Logano was about a mile away from taking his second Daytona 500, but ultimately wasn’t able to hang on, as Keselowski and eventual winner Michael McDowell had a huge run behind him. However, the Penske driver again showcased his superspeedway abilities by leading the race with 158 green flag passes, with 147 of those being quality passes (passing a car inside the top-15).
6. Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18)
Last Week: 5
Daytona 500 Result: 14th
If not for a rough sequence of pit stops that allowed the Ford crew to put themselves in front, Busch may have had a solid chance at his first Daytona 500. In the end, Busch was caught up in the crazy last-lap wreck, fortunately ending up with no injuries. Speedweeks isn’t a total loss for the two-time champion, as Busch is the Clash winner and still took home a decent points total from the 500.
7. Michael McDowell (Front Row Motorsports No. 34)
Last Week: 28
Daytona 500 Result: 1st
At 66-1 odds, McDowell was a longshot to win the Daytona 500. Even with his recent success on superspeedways, the veteran still had yet to win a Cup Series race and him getting to victory lane seemed unlikely. Lo and behold, McDowell found himself in the right place at the right time, avoiding early trouble and sneaking through the Logano-Keselowski last lap debacle. McDowell not only grabbed the victory but essentially locks his spot in the playoffs with the win, etching his name in NASCAR history.
8. Alex Bowman (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48)
Last Week: 7
Daytona 500 Result: 35th
Speedweeks brought plenty of optimism for Bowman, who put up the fastest time in qualifying and took the Daytona 500 pole, continuing Hendrick Motorsports’ traditional success on Daytona hot laps. Unfortunately, Bowman never truly had a chance in the race, as an innocent bystander in the lap 14 crash. The result is certainly rough for the new driver of the No. 48, but the early speed in the car is an encouraging sign.
9. Martin Truex Jr. (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19)
Last Week: 8
Daytona 500 Result: 25th
Truex wasn’t completely claimed by the early ‘Big One.’ There was, however, enough damage to his car that he was only able to ride around for the remainder of the race. That incident sums up the majority of the luck that Truex has on superspeedways over the years. On Sunday, he was able to at least pick up a few points by continuing in the race. As one of the better road course racers in the sport, next week presents an opportunity for Truex to quickly get back on track.
10. Bubba Wallace (23XI Racing No. 23)
Last Week: 19
Daytona 500 Result: 17th
In my preseason ranking of Wallace, there was some caution due to the typical uncertainties surrounding the transition to a brand new team. If Daytona is any indication, Wallace and 23XI Racing will compete for wins right away. He was able to work well with his Toyota teammates for the majority of the race, and until a late race problem, was right up front. This bump in the ranking seems well-deserved for Wallace, and a few checkered flags could be coming in the near future.
11. Kyle Larson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 5)
Last Week: 14
Daytona 500 Result: 10th
Larson’s first race for Hendrick Motorsports is a pretty solid one overall. Unlike teammates Alex Bowman and William Byron, Larson was able to avoid early trouble and survive until the end. If he wasn’t sent into a spin by the last-lap wreck, Larson would have been in line for a top-five finish, as he had one of the better cars on track. With 112 quality green flag passes, Larson is behind only Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, and Ryan Preece in that category.
12. Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10)
Last Week: 10
Daytona 500 Result: 34th
Like many others involved in the lap 14 wreck, Almirola missed out on a great chance at a Daytona 500 win. Almirola was running close to the front of the pack when he was turned by Christopher Bell, collecting Alex Bowman and eventually spreading the field apart. Unlike many others, Almirola was unable to repair the damage and has to settle for a 34th place finish. That being said, a win in the duels gives the Stewart-Haas Racing driver a little bit of a boost in the standings.
13. Ryan Blaney (Team Penske No. 12)
Last Week: 9
Daytona 500 Result: 30th
Blaney was just another name in the long list of names that weren’t able to complete one-tenth of the race after being claimed in the early crash. After nearly winning the Clash, there was clearly some speed in the No. 12 car, but it was never realized. It is a rough start to the season, but Blaney is one of the favorites to put his car in victory lane next Sunday at the road course.
14. Kurt Busch (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1)
Last Week: 11
Daytona 500 Result: 22nd
Busch was running at the end of 500, but he ran most of the race multiple laps down. It is a rough race for the elder Busch, who, like almost half of the field, suffered damage in the early wreck. Luckily, Busch was able to at least limp the car around the track to put together a halfway decent finish and gather some points from a race that, simply put, didn’t go his way. Busch’s luck at superspeedways hasn’t been the best lately, and that didn’t change this weekend.
15. Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing No. 3)
Last Week: 16
Daytona 500 Result: 3rd
One of the most consistent cars on track during the 500, Dillon ended up three-wide for the win coming down the back straightaway, only for the caution to come out while he was running third. Dillon led seven laps and had an average running position just outside of the top-five. His win in the second Daytona duel also gives him a little boost in points, as Dillon is the NASCAR points leader through one race.
16. Christopher Bell (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20)
Last Week: 13
Daytona 500 Result: 16th
The first half of the race couldn’t have gone better for Christopher Bell. He avoided the first big wreck (albeit, by having a hand in causing it), and led 32 laps before a spin took him off of the lead lap. Bell still wound up inside the top-20 in his first race with Joe Gibbs Racing, gathering a few stage points along the way. He surely wishes the end was a little better, but there has to be some optimism surrounding Bell’s season-opening run.
17. William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports No. 24)
Last Week: 12
Daytona 500 Result: 26th
Miraculously, Byron was able to get his car back on track to finish the race after nearly finding himself upside down in the early wreck. It isn’t the result Byron wanted, but the issues started even before the race. After securing a front-row starting position via qualifying, Byron had to start at the rear of the field following a wreck in his Duel race. Unfortunate developments derailed what could have been a great finish for the 2020 fall Daytona winner.
18. Tyler Reddick (Richard Childress Racing No. 8)
Last Week: 15
Daytona 500 Result: 27th
Despite driving a car that looked like it belonged in a junkyard for 185 laps, Reddick was able to complete the race and bring home a 27th place finish. It was a rough day overall for Reddick, who was caught up in the early wreck and had so much damage that he essentially drove around without a front bumper. Meeting minimum speed is honestly an accomplishment for the No. 8 crew.
19. Cole Custer (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41)
Last Week: 18
Daytona 500 Result: 11th
A solid, yet relatively uneventful run for Custer at Daytona. Custer was able to make it to the end and finish on the lead lap, which automatically gives him a solid finish. Custer’s driver rating is the lowest among any top-15 finisher in the race, and his number of quality passes is significantly lower than some of the top finishers. Still, a good run for the second-year driver to start his season after an up-and-down rookie year.
20. Matt DiBenedetto (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21)
Last Week: 17
Daytona 500 Result: 33rd
A tough Daytona 500 for DiBenedetto, as he was one of more than a dozen who were caught in the lap 14 wreck. There wasn’t much that the Wood Brothers driver could do to avoid the accident, and his day was essentially over before it began. Luckily, DiBenedetto is an underrated road course driver in the past couple of years, and that could open up a big chance for him to put together a solid finish.
BEST OF THE REST
21. Ross Chastain (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42) LW: 22
22. Chase Briscoe (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14) LW: 20
23. Corey LaJoie (Spire Motorsports No. 7) LW: 26
24. Daniel Suarez (Trackhouse Racing No. 99) LW: 24
25. Ryan Preece (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 37) LW: 29
26. Chris Buescher (Roush-Fenway Racing No. 17) LW: 21
27. Erik Jones (Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43) LW: 23
28. Austin Cindric (Team Penske No. 33) LW: NR
29. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47) LW: 27
30. Ryan Newman (Roush-Fenway Racing No. 6) LW: 25