By David Morgan, Associate Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – The little team that could did it again.
Michael McDowell took the fight to the rest of his competitors Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard to secure his place in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
After posting the fastest time in practice and turning in a fourth-place qualifying run, McDowell and his No. 34 Front Row Motorsports team made it known that they would be a threat on Sunday – and delivered.
“Oh, man, this is such a dream come true,” McDowell said. “I’m so thankful to everybody at Front Row Motorsports, Bob Jenkins, Horizon Hobbies, Fr8 Auctions, Chicago Pneumatic.
“Man, we had a fast Ford Mustang. Everybody at Roush Yates engine shop, Doug, these guys gave me everything today. We had the fastest car. We executed, and we did what we needed to do.
“Just so thankful, so thankful to still be grinding it out in the Cup Series. To put on a performance like that, I don’t know if it was dominant, but it felt pretty dominant to me.”
Soon after the green flag dropped, McDowell, Chase Elliott, and Daniel Suarez separated themselves from the pack as the three drivers that would fight for the win by the time the checkered flag flew, with McDowell landing the first blow with a win in Stage 1.
Though he didn’t win Stage 2, all three drivers were battling it out among Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski, who were on an alternate pit strategy.
In the midst of fighting for track position among Hamlin and Keselowski, McDowell made a decisive move on Suarez to secure the presumptive lead once Hamlin and Keselowski pitted. With that, McDowell made it clear that the win would have to go through him.
Then came the final round of green flag pit stops that would be the change to the status quo.
Having already made his final stop, the waiting game was at hand for McDowell as he would have to see how both Elliott and Suarez, his closest adversary for most of the day, cycled out. However, a fouled pit stop for Suarez would give him the cushion he needed to pull away down the stretch.
Leading three times for 54 laps, the victory now gives McDowell wins at two marquee tracks, having previously won the Daytona 500 in 2021 and now adding a win at Indianapolis to his resume.
“It’s such a big deal,” McDowell said. “Winning the Daytona 500 was one of the coolest moments you could ever have, but going to Victory Lane without your family, that was tough.
“And so we cherry pick; my family comes to the races we think we can win. We thought we could win this one. Just so proud.”
Though Elliott, who had advanced up to second after Suarez’s misfortune, chipped away at McDowell’s lead as the laps clicked away, he was only able to close to within a second by the end of the race. Close, but no cigar for the driver desperately in need of a win to make the Playoffs.
“Just really appreciate the effort, man,” Elliott said of his best finish since returning from injury. “Our Napa Chevy was really good, really good.
“Just needed just a little bit more and came up a bit short. But congrats to Michael, man. He did a good job. Ran a great race and stayed mistake free, and that’s what you’ve got to do to win.”
Meanwhile, Suarez finished a distant third, some 5.75 seconds in arears of McDowell, left wondering what might have been if that final pit stop had not gone awry.
“My car actually got better at the end,” Suarez said. “I think we were going to have a pretty good shot. It was going to be fun…It was going to be a good fight. Disappointed that we didn’t get to see it”
Tyler Reddick crossed the line in fourth, followed by Alex Bowman in fifth. The remainder of the top-10 finishers were Chase Briscoe, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, and Shane Van Gisbergen.
With McDowell’s win taking another Playoff spot off the board, there are now three Playoff berths up for grabs with just two races to go. Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski keep their triple-digit leads over the cut-off line at +145 and +143, respectively.
Bubba Wallace now falls to the bubble spot at +28 points, ahead of Suarez (-28), Ty Gibbs (-49), and Chase Elliott (-80).
Next up for the Cup Series is another road course race at Watkins Glen on August 20, followed by the regular season finale at Daytona on August 26.