DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — “The Big One” — a massive, multi-car crash that’s all but guaranteed at Daytona International Speedway — usually doesn’t occur too early in the 200-lap, 500-mile Daytona 500,
But on Lap 14, one small move triggered a huge wreck, and several cars were collected in it with a few shooting through the muddy grass of the infield.
Up near the front of the field, Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Toyota, appeared to give his teammate, Christopher Bell, in the No. 20 Toyota, a little push as they were racing in the inside lane of the 2.5-mile track. But it was maybe too much because Bell made contact with Aric Almirola’s No. 10 Ford right in front of him, and Almirola’s car shot to the right and into Alex Bowman in the No. 48 Chevrolet.
All this happened behind race leader Kevin Harvick, but created absolute chaos for the rest of the field immediately behind him.
Nearly half the field was involved in the 16-car pile up.
In addition to Almirola and Bowman, other drivers involved included Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Ryan Newman, William Byron, Matt DiBenedetto, Daniel Suárez, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Tyler Reddick, Chris Buescher and David Ragan.
Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet was rolling on two wheels at one point, while Ryan Preece in the No. 37 Chevrolet masterfully escaped through the mess.
Unable to continue racing, Almirola, Blaney, Suárez, Jones, Bowman and Newman were all evaluated and cleared by the infield care center. Afterward, Almirola said he’s “fine” and added:
“We were just getting pushed too hard too early. It’s a long, long race. Man, we were in a fine position, just sitting there riding around in the top two, three. And [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.”
Bowman — who won the 2021 Daytona 500 pole but was collateral damage in the early wreck — called his early exit a “bummer” because of how fast his car was, while Newman said after:
“Somebody crashed in the outside row in front of us, and we had nowhere to go. And I got hit from some place. I had the wreck missed, but got hit from some place and that was the end of our day.”
Almost immediately after the wreck, the race was red flagged because of rain and lightning.