DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For the second year in a row, Mother Nature brought the NASCAR Cup Series season opener to a halt early in the going at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
The 63rd Daytona 500 was stopped by lightning, and then rain, just 15 laps into the scheduled 200-lap distance and moments after a 16-car pileup forced the race’s second caution flag.
It’s the second year in a row that The Great American Race has been interrupted by weather. Last year’s Daytona 500 saw just 20 laps of racing before rain pushed the conclusion of the event to Monday night.
Polesitter Alex Bowman paced the opening lap of competition in his No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, before a group of Ford Mustangs led by Kevin Harvick teamed up to seize control of the proceedings.
Harvick led the second lap and maintained that position until the accident and subsequent weather delay that stopped the action. When racing is able to resume, he’ll be scored as the leader.
Second through fifth in the order are Christopher Bell, 2018 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, two-time Cup Series champion Kyle Busch and defending series titlist Chase Elliott.
The lap-14 crash that drastically altered the proceedings was sparked by contact between Bell’s Toyota and the Ford of Aric Almirola that sent Almirola spinning into the oncoming pack from second place.
It demolished a host of pre-race favorites, including Bowman, Almirola, Daniel Suarez, David Ragan, Erik Jones and Ryan Newman, who was making his return to the Daytona 500 a year after a harrowing crash on the last lap of the 2020 edition that hospitalized him for three days.
One driver who wasn’t involved, however, was defending Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, who dropped to the back of the pack early and picked his way through the melee in turns three and four.
Hamlin was scored 16th when the red flag was displayed at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, with 24 cars shown on the lead lap and 185 laps remaining in the Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing.
As of 4:25 p.m. ET, four strong rainstorms had hit Daytona Int’l Speedway, with precipitation still falling.
However, the chances of resuming Sunday night are somewhat promising. Rain chances will dip below 50 percent after 5 p.m. ET, according to the National Weather Service.