Multi-car crash snares Daytona 500 contenders early in Stage 1

Chaos struck early at Daytona International Speedway.

Just 14 laps into the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500, a large crash took multiple cars out of contention — and a weather delay soon followed, as the race is currently under delay.

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Christopher Bell’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota went to push Aric Almirola’s No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, as a run started to form in the inside line. The cars were not properly aligned, so Bell’s nudge ultimately turned Almirola. The No. 10 went up the track and sparked a 16-car pile-up that first collected pole-sitter Alex Bowman in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and then many others. Bell continued on.

“We were just getting pushed too hard too early,” Almirola said of the pressure he felt at the end of the backstretch. “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 (Bell) just came with a big run and hit me really hard in a bad spot and it turned me to the right and tore up our race car and ended our Daytona 500 way too early.”

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Said Bowman, who was the pole-starter for the second time in his Cup Series career: “It looks like the No. 10 (Almirola) kind of got turned sideways there and I was the guy that got ran into. 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.”

Those involved in the wreck: Bell, Almirola, Bowman, Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, David Ragan, Anthony Alfredo and Daniel Suarez.

Newman was in his first Daytona 500 since a severe crash at the end of last season’s Great American Race, but his No. 6 Roush Fenway Ford was one of the early exits on a wrecker’s hook.

“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. “I had the wreck missed, but got hit from some place and that was the end of our day. I just feel bad for Kohler Generators jumping on board and getting wrecked out of the Daytona 500 so early, but unfortunately that’s part of racing. I just wish we could have had some better results.”

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Almirola, Bowman, Suarez, Ragan, Newman, Jones and Derrike Cope — sidelined by a previous incident — are all listed as out for the rest of the race. The wreck also did in Blaney, DiBenedetto, Buescher and Alfredo after their time ran out on the damaged vehicle policy following the resumption of the race after a five-hour and 40-minute delay.

Almirola was running second before the domino disaster. Kevin Harvick watched the melee unfold out front in his No. 4 SHR Ford’s rearview mirror. He holds the lead as the yellow flag switched to red due to lightning in the Daytona Beach, Florida, area.