Entering NASCAR’s Verizon 200 on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell was in a close points battle with Joe Gibbs Racing’s rookie driver Ty Gibbs.
McDowell stood three points behind Gibbs for the final playoff spot for the NASCAR Playoffs with three races remaining in the regular season. That was until Sunday’s dominant performance around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course.
Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suarez led the field to the green flag after qualifying in the pole position Saturday afternoon. In the two prior iterations of the Verizon 200 in 2021 and 2022, Turn 1 has been the so-called ‘calamity corner,’ with no shortage of chaos on restarts.
The first and only caution of the day took place on the second lap when Kaulig Racing’s and native Justin Haley collided with the tire barrier at the exit of Turn 6 after contact with Team Penske’s Joey Logano. Haley went on to finish 38th.
Logano was involved in another accident just four laps later while approaching Turn 1 after the restart. Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney was the victim of Logano’s mistake, but remained on the track and had a solid finish of 13th.
After Logano’s pair of incidents, the final 10 laps of the opening stage were less hectic as McDowell won his first career stage on lap 15. With NASCAR’s implementation of no cautions at the end of stages at road course races, the race stayed green after the opening stage.
Just two years ago, Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger won the inaugural Verizon 200, but he struggled Sunday. With four laps remaining in the second 20-lap stage, Blaney spun Allmendinger at the exit of Turn 14 and sent Allmendinger off track, where he struggled to refire his No. 16 Chevrolet.
After returning to the track’s surface, Allmendinger voiced his frustration with Blaney over the team radio. Allmendinger said that if he were to get back to Blaney’s No. 12 Ford, he would wreck him.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin won the second stage with the strategic choice of his crew chief Chris Gabehart electing to keep the No. 11 Toyota on the track despite low fuel. Just one lap after the end of the stage, Hamlin pitted for fuel and went on to finish 19th.
Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott entered Sunday in a must-win scenario after missing seven races earlier this season due to an injury and a suspension. From lap 50 until the checked flag flew after the completion of the 82nd lap, Elliott trailed McDowell by around three seconds each lap.
Elliott struggled to make up ground on the driver of the No. 34 while McDowell explained after the race that he was doing his best to save his tires in case of a yellow flag late in the race. Although he never pulled away from Elliott, McDowell controlled the latter half of the race en route to his second NASCAR Cup Series victory alongside his 2021 Daytona 500 win.
Not only did McDowell win for the first time in over two seasons, but his family was alongside him at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to celebrate after not being in attendance for his Daytona victory. McDowell was joined by his family and team as they kissed the famed ‘yard of bricks’ at the finish line.
The NASCAR Cup Series will head to Watkins Glen International next Sunday, Aug. 20, for the Go Bowling at the Glen. The race will begin at 3 p.m. EST and will be televised on the USA Network.