It didn’t take long for both the racing and weather Sunday (Feb. 14) to escalate in the 2021 Daytona 500.
On lap 14, contact between Christopher Bell and Aric Almirola sent the latter sideways, crashing into Alex Bowman and taking nearly half the field with him. The massive pileup was followed by a lightning delay that put the race in a 30-minute holding pattern.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 14, 2021
Bell had help from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch and got a shove from the No. 18, in turn pushing Almirola, and ended up hooking the No. 10 into Bowman.
A total of 16 cars were involved in the melee, including Almirola, who won the second Bluegreen Vacations Duel on Thursday. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Bowman and William Byron, along with the entire Roush Fenway Racing stable in Ryan Newman and Chris Buescher were among the victims. Daniel Suarez has also been wrecked in Team Trackhouse’s debut.
Almirola started in the top five after the win Thursday night.
“We were just getting pushed too hard to early,” Almirola said in a Ford Performance release. “It’s a long, long race. Man, we were in a fine position, just sitting there riding around in the top two, three, and the 20 just came with a big run and hit me really hard in a bad spot…it turned me to the right and tore up our race car and ended our Daytona 500 way too early.”
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 14, 2021
Newman’s race, a year after his horrific wreck at the checkered flag of 2020’s edition, ended after less than 20 laps.
“Somebody crashed in the outside row in front of us and we had nowhere to go and I got hit from some place,” Newman said in the same press release. “I had the wreck missed, but got hit from some place and that was the end of our day…I just wish we could have had some better results.”
Bowman gave his interpretation of the crash afterwards, as well.
“It looks like the No. 10 [Almirola] kind of got turned sideways there and I was the guy that got ran into,” he said. “Bummer – I hate it for Ally. Obviously, we had a really fast Camaro. The Chevrolets were working good together; hopefully a Chevy still ends up in Victory Lane. …Hats off to everybody at Hendrick Motorsports; they built some really fast race cars. Hate that superspeedway racing works out that way sometimes, but that’s just part of the game.”
Bowman, one of the first cars taken out, also voiced his thoughts on Twitter.
Well that was a bummer… pic.twitter.com/QdiP2lLphH
— Alex Bowman (@Alex_Bowman) February 14, 2021
Erik Jones, swept up in the wreck during his debut with Richard Petty Motorsports, posted a succinct tweet that summed up his emotions after the pileup.
Well mom always said if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Can’t wait for the road course next week.
— Erik Jones (@Erik_Jones) February 14, 2021
David Ragan, as he did last year, was making a one-off start for Front Row Motorsports in the team’s No. 36. The 2011 winner of Daytona’s summer race was running in the top 15 but had nowhere to go, nosing into the outside wall and totaling the Ford Mustang.
“It’s just unfortunate to have a bunch of tore up race cars that early,” Ragan said. “I’ve never met a driver that said ‘Hey, I’m gonna start this 500-mile race and just be super aggressive.’ We all talk about give and take and make it to the end, but it seems nobody does that once they get out there. It’s frustrating that everybody is pushing and shoving and I just saw the 48 get turned…whenever someone wrecks in the top five or six it tears up a lot of cars.”
Minutes after the crash, a lightning strike close to the track forced the cars to pit road for a 30-minute delay. The race remains in a holding pattern.
This story will be updated.