Was it worth waiting for? The long pre-race festivities that included driver introductions, Luke Combs in concert, and the flyover by the Air Force Thunderbirds…was it worth waiting for?
An over five-hour rain delay that at some points had all of us feeling it would be a Monday race just as a year before? Was it worth waiting for? The announcers taped a segment for the next day should the announcement be made, and it never came. Three stages, 200 laps, 500 miles, and a late night at one race track all leading to one final moment.
Was it worth waiting for?
If you are Michael McDowell, it absolutely was.
There was a lot of doubt in many minds after just 15 laps that it would be a repeat of a year ago when the same race got moved to a Monday night, and there is no question many recall what happened on the last Monday night Daytona 500. In a way, some of what happened had a repeat, as there still was a wreck on the final lap, just a few corners earlier. It was unnerving and frightening, but this time every driver got out of their car, and lived to walk away to compete another day.
After over five hours of rain, and track drying, then more rain, and track drying, the fact that this race got finished on the same day that it started in and of itself is a step ahead of a year ago. So for those in attendance, it was well worth waiting for since they did not want to come back the next day.
It was worth waiting through a multi-car wreck not even 10 percent of the way into the race, and then another just over three-quarters of a mile away from the checkered flag.
Despite all those setbacks that could easily have made this event less of a treasure as it always has been, and will be, it was well worth the wait to see the checkered flag in the air, and fall on a guy that has worked so hard for his opportunities.
Here’s a driver who years ago went head-long into the outside wall at Texas Motor Speedway and went tumbling down the embankment like a rock down a dirt hill, and still got out of the car to race that weekend.
A driver that has seen opportunities come, and go, and return, but his desire never yielding and instead continues to thrive. He seemed to find a home at a small operation with great resources, and a couple wins to it’s credit in years past.
Now, he can say that his team got him to the finish line as the leader on the final lap in the biggest race of the season.
McDowell was the leader at the checkered flag, and the yellow flag, to etch his name on the Harley J. Earl Trophy for all eternity. The only thing that he is losing at the end of this race is, well, his car. The No. 34 Loves Travel Center Ford, with all that confetti, all the Gatorade, and it’s dents, cracks, and duct tape, now will rest in the Daytona 500 Experience (or Daytona USA for those old-school fans) for an entire year. The next time McDowell will see that car will be the morning off next year’s event.
Now that the rain has stopped, the smoke has cleared, and the rubber scent has evaporated, it’s time to park it for this week, but we are not going far. In fact, we’re returning to the same track in just six days, but making a few more turns in order to reach the finish line.