A major shakeup to the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff field was made at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course venue as Michael McDowell raced his way into this year’s postseason championship battle after scoring a dominant victory in the third annual running of the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard on Sunday, August 13.
The 38-year-old McDowell from Glendale, Arizona, led three times for a race-high 54 of 82-scheduled laps in an event where he started fourth and quickly made his presence known after assuming the lead from pole-sitter Daniel Suarez on the sixth lap and following the event’s only caution period on the second lap.
After proceeding to win the first stage and gain valuable stage points towards his push above the Playoff cutline, McDowell benefited through a 77-lap green flag run to the finish with mixed pit strategies to lead Laps 36 to 48 before reassuming it for good on Lap 53 upon pitting for the final time with 34 laps remaining. From there, the Arizona veteran managed to preserve his car through each of the speedway’s 14 turns and fend off a late charge from Chase Elliott to win for the second time in the Cup Series level and add his name to this year’s Playoff picture.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, August 12, Daniel Suarez notched his first Cup pole position of the 2023 season and the third of his career after posting a pole-winning lap at 99.814 mph in 87.968 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Tyler Reddick, the reigning Brickyard winner who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 99.649 mph in 88.113 seconds.
Prior to the event, Brodie Kostecki, the current points leader of this year’s Supercars Championship season who was making his inaugural NASCAR presence driving the No. 33 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Richard Childress Racing, dropped to the rear of the field in a backup car after wrecking his primary car during Saturday’s qualifying session. William Byron also dropped to the rear of the field and was assessed a pass-through penalty upon taking the green flag due to his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 failing pre-race inspection three times, an issue that prevented him from posting a qualifying lap on Saturday.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Suarez rocketed ahead from the field amid crossing the new restart zone in between Turns 13 and 14 and retained the lead through the frontstretch while the field fanned out. Through the first braking zone in Turn 1 before entering Turn 2, Suarez maintained the lead ahead of Reddick while Chase Elliott and Michael McDowell battled for third through Turns 3 to 6 in front of Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch. As the field continued to fan out and jostle for early positions, Suarez maintained the lead through a brief straightaway exiting Turn 6 before entering another braking zone in Turn 7 and navigating from Turns 8 to 14. As Suarez proceeded to lead the first lap over Reddick, Byron served his pass-through penalty.
A lap later, the first caution of the event flew when Joey Logano ran over the curb in between Turns 5 and 6 and bumped into Justin Haley, which sent Haley off the course and into the guardrails and tire barrels in Turn 6 as Haley was left with significant damage to his No. 31 LeafFilter Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. By then, Kamui Kobayashi, a multiple World Endurance champion and former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner who was making his NASCAR debut for 23XI Racing, was in 37th despite starting 28th after getting hit by Andy Lally and spinning in Turn 2.
During the first caution period, select names that included Brad Keselowski, Mike Rockenfeller, Kamui Kobayashi, Byron, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ty Dillon pitted while the rest led by Suarez remained on the track.
When the race restarted under green on the fifth lap, Suarez retained the lead through the restart zone and through the frontstretch while Michael McDowell challenged and overtook Reddick for the runner-up spot. As Logano spun entering Turn 1 after running into the rear of teammate Ryan Blaney while rookie Ty Gibbs got turned by Shane van Gisbergen, the event remained under green flag conditions as Suarez continued to lead from Turns 2 to 13 while the field behind scrambled and jostled for positions. Then through Turns 13 and 14, McDowell, who was announced to remain at Front Row Motorsports for the 2024 season, battled and overtook Suarez to assume the lead in his No. 34 Horizon Hobby Ford Mustang through the frontstretch and the first braking zone in Turn 1.
The following lap, McDowell maintained the lead by a tenth of a second over Suarez as Reddick, Elliott and Larson followed suit in the top five. With Kyle Busch in sixth, Christopher Bell, Shane van Gisbergen, Alex Bowman and Chase Briscoe were in the top 10 while Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace and Austin Cindric occupied the top 15.
Through the first 10 scheduled laps, McDowell was leading by four-tenths of a second over Suarez followed by Reddick, Elliott and Larson while Busch, Bell, Bowman, Briscoe and van Gisbergen were in the top 10. Behind, Truex was in 11th ahead of Blaney, Buescher, Wallace and Cindric while Todd Gilliland, AJ Allmendinger, Corey LaJoie, Harrison Burton and Austin Dillon occupied the top 20. Meanwhile, Ross Chastain was in 21st ahead of Denny Hamlin, Jenson Button, Erik Jones and Andy Lally while Ty Gibbs, Josh Bilicki, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Brodie Kostecki were scored in the top 30. By then, Byron was in 33rd in between Mike Rockenfeller and Kobayashi, Logano was down in 35th and Aric Almirola was running 37th in front of teammate Ryan Preece.
Two laps later, Harvick pitted his No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang under green. Jenson Button and Andy Lally pitted during the following lap while Blaney, Cindric and Gilliland followed suit on pit road during Lap 14 while McDowell continued to lead ahead of Suarez. Amid the pit stops, Button was penalized for speeding on pit road.
At the conclusion of the first stage period on Lap 15, McDowell, who came into the event three points below the top-16 cutline to race his way into the 2023 Cup Series Playoffs, claimed his first Cup career stage victory. Suarez settled in second while Elliott, Reddick, Larson, Kyle Busch, Bell, Bowman, van Gisbergen and Truex were scored in the top 10.
With the event remaining under green just past the Lap 15 mark to start the second stage period, Chase Briscoe and Buescher peeled off the track to pit their respective entries. On the following lap, Brodie Kostecki, Reddick, Allmendinger and Byron also pitted. McDowell would then surrender the lead to pit by Lap 17 followed by Suarez, Larson, Bowman, Chastain, Ty Gibbs and Mike Rockenfeller while Elliott assumed the lead. Elliott proceeded to lead a lap before he pitted by Lap 18 along with Kyle Busch and LaJoie. By then, Rockenfeller and LaJoie were both penalized for speeding on pit road.
Back on the track and by Lap 20, Bell, who assumed the lead on Lap 18, was leading by more than four seconds over van Gisbergen followed by Truex, Wallace and Austin Dillon while Hamlin, Harrison Burton, Keselowski, Kobayashi and Ty Dillon were scored in the top 10. Meanwhile, Suarez, who exited ahead of McDowell on pit road following his green flag pit stop, was in 12th ahead of McDowell while Elliott, Larson, Kyle Busch, Reddick and Bowman were running 14th through 17th, respectively.
At the Lap 25 mark, Bell continued to lead by more than 15 seconds over Austin Dillon while Hamlin, Keselowski and Suarez trailed in the top five ahead of McDowell, Elliott, Ty Dillon, Larson and Kyle Busch. With Reddick, Bowman, Briscoe, Buescher and Blaney running in the top 15, Truex, who pitted on Lap 22, was in 17th while van Gisbergen and Wallace, both of whom pitted on Lap 23, were back in 20th and 21st.
A lap later, the leader Bell pitted his No. 20 Rheem Toyota TRD Camry for his first service of the event. This allowed Austin Dillon to move into the lead followed by Hamlin and Keselowski despite all three still having to make at least their first pit stop of the day while Suarez and McDowell cycled and followed suit in the top five. Dillon would then pit his No. 3 Cowboy Chanel Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 by Lap 28, which moved Hamlin into the lead. By then, Larson, who was running eighth, missed the corner in Turn 12 and fell back to 12th while blending back into the racing groove.
On Lap 30, trouble struck for Allmendinger after he got turned by Blaney through Turn 14 while both were battling for 16th place, a move that prompted Allmendinger to issue a potential payback to Blaney, as he managed to proceed without drawing a caution. By then, Hamlin, who has yet to pit, retained the lead ahead of Keselowski while Suarez, McDowell and Elliott were in the top five.
At the conclusion of the second stage period on Lap 35, Hamlin, who nearly missed the turn entering Turn 7, fended off Suarez, McDowell and Keselowski to capture his fifth Cup stage victory of the 2023 season in his No. 11 Yahoo! Toyota TRD Camry. McDowell and Suarez followed suit in second and third along with Keselowski, who missed the turn in Turn 12 and allowed both McDowell and Keselowski to cycle past him, while Elliott, Kyle Busch, Reddick, Bowman, Briscoe and Larson were scored in the top 10.
With the final stage commencing under a continuous green flag period with 47 laps remaining, McDowell reassumed the lead through Turns 12 and 13 as Hamlin and Keselowski both pitted after both were successful in stretching their fuel tanks and gaining valuable stage points. With Hamlin and Keselowski pitting, Elliott cycled his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 up to second followed by Suarez while Kyle Busch and Reddick were scored in the top five.
At the halfway mark with 41 laps remaining, McDowell was leading by nearly six-tenths of a second over Elliott followed by Suarez, Busch and Reddick while Bowman, Briscoe, Larson, Truex and Bell were in the top 10. Behind, van Gisbergen was in 11th followed by Buescher, Cindric, Blaney and Wallace while Austin Dillon, Ty Gibbs, Chastain, Byron and Kostecki occupied the top 20. Meanwhile, Harvick was in 24th ahead of Kobayashi, Keselowski and Hamlin were back in 26th and 27th, Button was scored in 30th, Rockenfeller was in 35th behind Logano and Allmendinger was back in 37th.
With 37 laps remaining, Harvick and Andy Lally pitted under green. By then, Josh Bilick, who spun off the course, was back in 30th while McDowell stabilized his advantage to more than seven-tenths of a second over Elliott as third-place Suarez trailed by more than a second.
A lap later, another cycle of green flag pit stops slowly commenced as names including Briscoe, Larson, Cindric, Blaney, Brostecki, Gilliland and Jenson Button pitted while Suarez bumped Elliott entering Turn 12 to move into the runner-up spot. McDowell then surrendered the lead to pit under green with 34 laps remaining along with Suarez, Elliott, Reddick, Buescher, Truex and Ty Gibbs. Amid the pit stops, Suarez endured a slow pit service after the air gun hose got stuck under the front tire of his No. 99 Freeway.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, which resulted in Suarez’s car having to be jacked for a second time as Elliott and McDowell overtook him on pit road.
With 30 laps remaining, Bell assumed a brief lead before he pitted under green. McDowell would cycle back into the lead during the following lap as Wallace pitted his No. 23 MoneyLion Toyota TRD Camry, which allowed Elliott, Suarez, Reddick and Hamlin to move up into the top five.
Down to the final 25 laps of the event, McDowell was leading by nearly three seconds over Elliott followed by Suarez, Reddick and Hamlin while Keselowski, Bowman, Briscoe, Truex and Larson were running in the top 10 ahead of Bell, van Gisbergen, Buescher, Cindric and Blaney. By then, Kyle Busch, who was running 11th, pitted under green after flat-spotting his tire on his No. 8 3Chi Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 while missing a braking zone in Turn 12 while Stenhouse bumped and sent Button’s No. 15 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang for a spin entering Turn 8 while both were battling for 30th.
Five laps later, McDowell stabilized his advantage to nearly three seconds over Elliott followed by Suarez and Reddick, both of whom trailed by more than nine seconds, as Bowman cracked the top five. As a result, Keselowski fell back to sixth while Briscoe, Hamlin, Truex and Larson occupied the top 10. By then, Gilliland, McDowell’s teammate at Front Row Motorsports, was scored in 38th after getting into the wall in Turn 12 without drawing a caution.
Two laps later, Keselowski, who was running in the top 10 a lap prior, pitted his No. 6 Socios.com Ford Mustang under green. Another two laps later, trouble struck for Kobayashi after he got hit and sent for a spin by Stenhouse, who made earlier contact again with Button, entering Turn 1. With Kobayashi continuing under green, McDowell continued to lead by more than two seconds over Elliott and more than seven seconds over third-place Suarez.
Down to the final 10 laps of the event, McDowell retained the lead by more than two seconds over Elliott while third-place Suarez trailed by more than six seconds followed by a hard-charging Reddick. With Bowman running in the top five, Briscoe, Truex, Larson, Bell and van Gisbergen followed suit in the top 10.
With five laps remaining, McDowell stabilized his advantage to more than two seconds over Elliott while Suarez, Reddick and Bowman remained in the top five. By then, Allmendinger went off the course and ran his car through the gravel through Turn 4, but the event remained under green as Allmendinger blended back onto the racing surface. As the laps continued to dwindle, McDowell, who also navigated his way through lapped traffic, retained his lead to more than two seconds over Elliott.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, McDowell remained as the leader by more than a second over a hard-charging Elliott, who now had McDowell close within his sights after clearing his way through lapped traffic. As Elliott continued to gain slight ground on McDowell’s advantage from Turns 1 to 6, he then tried to close in on McDowell’s rear bumper through two braking zones from Turn 7 and Turn 12, but it was not enough as McDowell, who retained the lead through 14 turns for a final time, was able to cycle his way back to the frontstretch and beat Elliott by nine-tenths of a second to triumph for the second time in his Cup career and punch his ticket into the Playoffs.
With the victory, McDowell, who became the 13th different competitor to be guaranteed a spot for the 2023 Cup Series Playoffs based on winning, achieved his second career victory in NASCAR’s premier series and his first since winning the 2021 Daytona 500, thus giving him two crown-jewel victories in NASCAR. The victory was the fourth overall for Front Row Motorsports owned by team owner Bob Jenkins, the fifth of the season for the Ford nameplate and the first for new full-time crew chief Travis Peterson as McDowell became the 18th different competitor to win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, third to do so on the track’s road course layout.
“Man, this is such a dream come true,” McDowell said on NBC. “I’m so thankful to everybody at Front Row Motorsports. Man, we had a fast Ford Mustang. Everybody at Roush Yates Engines Shop, [CEO] Doug [Yates]. These guys gave me everything today. We had the fastest car. We executed and we did what we needed to do. Just 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.”
“I was really trying to pace myself,” McDowell added. “I figured there would be a late-race caution. I didn’t want to burn my stuff up. I was just trying to maintain that gap. Then when I got into traffic [and Eliott] started closing, I had to push it. I just can’t believe it. It’s been a grind and I’m so proud. 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 got a good shot at winning if we could just get track position and maintain it. I can’t believe it. 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. We cherry-pick. My family comes to the races we think we can win. We thought we could win this one. Just so proud.”
While McDowell celebrated both a race victory and a Playoff berth, Elliott and Suarez were both left disappointed, but still optimistic, over their top-three results at Indianapolis. For Elliott, who lost ground on the Playoff cutline amid wrecking early during the previous scheduled event at Michigan International Speedway, the runner-up result was his second of the season, but not enough for him to narrow the gap between himself and the cutline as he is now tied with teammate Alex Bowman for 19th place in the regular-season standings while trailing the cutline by 80 points.
“[I needed] Just to be a little better through the back half over there and get off of [Turn] 14 a little better just to have myself in a better spot getting into [Turn] 1,” Elliott said. “Just really appreciate the effort, man. Our Napa Chevy was 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. [The race] was great. It felt good. Ready to go for 77 [laps] more.”
For Suarez, the late pit road issue involving an air gun hose getting stuck underneath his car during his final pit service under green evaporated his hopes of regaining ground on McDowell for the victory, but the third-place result marked his third top-five result of the 2023 season. Currently, Suarez is situated in 17th place in the regular-season standings and trails the cutline by 28 points.
“We win and we lose as a team, and that’s all I can say,” Suarez said. “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 [Elliott McDowell], and then at the end, I felt that when my car came alive again, we had that [pit road] 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. I mean, definitely, we can perform, I think, ever better [next weekend]. I’m pretty sure we’re gonna go back and analyze everything, and come back stronger next week.”
Reddick, the reigning Brickyard winner, came home in fourth place while Alex Bowman finished fifth despite still being 80 points below the top-16 cutline towards the Playoffs. Briscoe Truex, Larson, Bell and Shane van Gisbergen completed the top 10 on the track.
Notably, rookie Ty Gibbs finished 12th behind Buescher, Byron rallied from his pass-through start of the event by finishing 14th behind Blaney, Wallace came home in 18th in front of Hamlin and Keselowski, Harvick finished 23rd in his final start at Indianapolis, Allmendinger ended up 26th, Logano capped off his long event in 34th and Kyle Busch ended up 36th.
In addition, Brodie Kostecki and Kamui Kobayashi finished 22nd and 33rd in their Cup Series debut, respectively, while Mike Rockenfeller and Jenson Button finished 24th and 28th, respectively.
There were 10 lead changes for seven different leaders. The race featured a single caution for three laps. In addition, all 39 starters finished the event, with 22 finishing on the lead lap.
With two regular-season events remaining of this year’s Cup Series schedule, Martin Truex Jr. continues to lead the regular-season standings by 60 points over teammate Denny Hamlin.
William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Chris Buescher, Ross Chastain, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, Michael McDowell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are currently guaranteed spots for the 2023 Cup Series Playoffs based on winning at least once throughout the regular-season stretch. Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Bubba Wallace occupy the remaining vacant spots in the Playoffs based on points, with Wallace occupying the 16th and final vacant spots by 28 points over Daniel Suarez, 49 over Ty Gibbs, 80 over both Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman, 87 over AJ Allmendinger and 105 over Austin Cindric.
1. Michael McDowell, 54 laps led, Stage 1 winner
2. Chase Elliott, one lap led
3. Daniel Suarez, six laps led
4. Tyler Reddick
5. Alex Bowman
6. Chase Briscoe
7. Martin Truex Jr.
8. Kyle Larson
9. Christopher Bell, 11 laps led
10. Shane van Gisbergen, one lap led
11. Chris Buescher
12. Ty Gibbs
13. Ryan Blaney
14. William Byron
15. Austin Cindric
16. Austin Dillon, one lap led
17. Ross Chastain
18. Bubba Wallace
19. Denny Hamlin, eight laps led, Stage 2 winner
20. Brad Keselowski
21. Harrison Burton
22. Brodie Kostecki
23. Kevin Harvick, one lap down
24. Mike Rockenfeller, one lap down
25. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., one lap down
26. AJ Allmendinger, one lap down
27. Ty Dillon, one lap down
28. Jenson Button, one lap down
29. Corey LaJoie, one lap down
30. Andy Lally, one lap down
31. Ryan Preece, one lap down
32. Josh Bilicki, one lap down
33. Kamui Kobayashi, one lap down
34. Joey Logano, one lap down
35. Erik Jones, one lap down
36. Kyle Busch, two laps down
37. Todd Gilliland, two laps down
38. Justin Haley, two laps down
39. Aric Almirola, three laps down
Next on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is another road course event as the series travels east to Watkins Glen International in New York for the Go Bowling at The Glen. The event is scheduled to occur next Sunday, August 20, at 3 p.m. ET on USA Network.