Michael McDowell wins Cup Series race at Indy Road Course, clinches playoff berth


SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Running a race he knew he could win, Michael McDowell held off Chase Elliott in Sunday’s Verizon 200 at the Brickyard and grabbed a spot in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

The No. 34 Front Row Motorsports driver led 54 of 82 laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in a race that featured just one caution and ran under the green flag for the final 77 laps.

“My family comes to the races we think we can win,” said McDowell, who shared hugs with his wife and children after climbing from his Ford. “We thought we could win this one.”

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McDowell’s second career victory was a convincing one. He passed pole winner Daniel Suárez for the lead after a Lap 6 restart and held it until he brought the No. 34 Mustang to pit road on Lap 17 for a green-flag stop.

After pitting for a second time on Lap 49, McDowell regained the top spot when Bubba Wallace pitted on Lap 53 and held it the rest of the way. Over the last 29 laps, Elliott — needing a victory to advance to the playoffs — narrowed McDowell’s four-second margin to 0.937 seconds at the finish, but that was as close as the 2020 series champion could get.

“I was really trying to pace myself,” McDowell said. “I figured there would be a late-race caution, and I didn’t want to burn my stuff up. I was just trying to maintain that gap.

“Then when I got into traffic, (Elliott) started closing, I had to push it, but I just can’t believe it.”

McDowell now has victories at Daytona (the 2021 Daytona 500) and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, arguably the two most iconic venues in the sport. He put a Ford in Victory Lane at a road course for the first time since Ryan Blaney won the inaugural race at the Charlotte Roval in 2018.

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“Winning the Daytona 500 was one of the coolest moments you could ever have,” said McDowell, one of the most accomplished road racers in the Cup Series. “But going to Victory Lane without your family, that was tough.

“So we cherry-pick. We come to the races we think we can win… Just so proud… You know, I thought we could point our way in (to the playoffs), but after the car that we had yesterday in practice, I thought, man, we’ve got a good shot at winning if we could just get track position and maintain it.”

That’s exactly what McDowell did. After Suárez beat McDowell off pit road on Lap 17, McDowell chased the No. 99 Chevrolet until they caught the cars of Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski at the end of Stage 2 on Lap 35.

Hamlin and Keselowski were on older tires, and McDowell surged past Keselowski and Suárez through the Turn 12 and 13 complex. When Hamlin and Keselowski finally came to pit road on Lap 36, McDowell was back in the lead.

Much of the race was a three-way battle between McDowell, Elliott and Suárez, but Suárez lost valuable time when his left-front tire landed on an air gun hose during the Lap 49 stop. The snafu cost Suárez six seconds and a chance to win.

“We win, and we lose as a team, and that’s all I can say,” said Suárez, who salvaged a third-place finish. “The guys brought a very fast race car. I felt that maybe we were one adjustment behind in the first run with the back of the car, but then we made it a little bit better.

“But I felt like I was always one step behind the No. 9 and the No. 34, and then at the end, I felt that when my car came alive again, we had that issue.

“Just a little bit heartbreaking, but that’s part of the sport. All we can do is continue to push, continue to build race cars like this, and I’ll keep on winning races.”

Elliott was gracious in his praise for McDowell, and he identified where his No. 9 Chevrolet needed to be stronger.

“Just to be a little better through the back half (of the course) over there and get off of (Turn) 14 a little better just to have myself in a better spot getting into (Turn) 1.

“Just really appreciate the effort, man. 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.”

Tyler Reddick finished fourth, followed by Alex Bowman, Chase Briscoe, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell. Shane van Gisbergen, who won the Chicago Street Race in July, was 10th in his second NASCAR Cup start.

McDowell’s win reduces the number of available playoff spots to three. Keselowski and Kevin Harvick are comfortably situated on points — barring more different winners at Watkins Glen next Sunday (3 p.m. ET, USA, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App) and Daytona — but Wallace’s hold on the final spot was reduced from 58 points pre-race to 28 over Suárez.

Note: Post-race inspection in the Cup Series garage concluded without issue, confirming McDowell as the race winner.

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