How Does Michael McDowell’s Daytona 500 Win Impact the Playoffs?

Michael McDowell’s Daytona 500 win was one of the approximately once-in-a-decade events in which an underdog wins. How does this affect the playoffs?

An Unexpected Winner, But No Fluke

“This is definitely no fluke. I’ve said many times, this is a skill game. He’s got the skill set to win these, and he finally got it done.”

Denny Hamlin on Michael McDowell

It’s one of those wins that makes you feel good because McDowell is one of the truly nice guys in the sport. The last time an underdog won the Daytona 500 was 2011 and Trevor Bayne.

Hamlin is right that you can’t discount McDowell’s win as a fluke. It’s not like he was running 30th on that last lap and he only won because the 19 cars in front of his crashed.

McDowell has a little more than a 50% accident index in the Daytona 500 meaning that he’s got some skill for avoiding crashes. He was running up front, in position to take advantage someone else’s mistake.

A column graph showing that Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell falls in the middle group of drivers in terms of how often they are involved in accidents at Daytona
A column chart that shows the frequency with which drivers are involved in accidents in the Daytona 500.

The mistake came.

The Element of Serendipity

But, as I’ve noted, when we have unlikely winners, it’s usually because a lot of the cars that normally would have contended crashed out. 31 cars were in accidents. That’s counting the cars that had more than one accident.

We had two big accidents: One cleaned out the field early in the race, with 13 cars from that crash having to DNF. The cars that came back on track, like William Byron, Martin Truex, Jr. and Kurt Busch, were laps down and never mae them ups DNFs.

The last-lap crash took out five cars, all of them contenders.

Again, not to take anything away from McDowell, but as I said on Dave Moody’s show Friday, luck tends to play a much larger role at superspeedways than it does other tracks.

How McDowell’s Daytona 500 Win Impacts the Playoffs

It doesn’t.

Twitter and SiriusXM NASCAR radio have been talking a lot in the last two days about McDowell’s Daytona 500 win being some sort of shake-up to the rest of the season.

Drivers who get into the playoffs with one win at a superspeedway or a road course rarely make it past the first cutoff.

And superspeedway races rarely have any correlation with where drivers finish at the end of the season.

It’s true that McDowell has taken a spot away from another contender, but they’ve got 25 more races to win before the playoff brackets are set.

If McDowell gets a second win — and it’d be great if that happens — only then do we need to start considering about his impact on the playoffs.

Michael McDowell’s cemented his spot in NASCAR history as a Daytona 500 winner. He earned that. But one race does not a season make, and that’s even more true when that race is at Daytona.

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