Michael McDowell guaranteed his spot in the playoffs with a dominant performance at the Indianapolis road course. He led the most laps in a race that he’s ever led in his career, especially meaningful when you realize that the laps here are so much longer that laps at most have won other tracks.
You know, I thought we could point our way in, 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.Michael McDowell
The win was especially meaningful to McDowell because his family was there for his second career checkered flag. They were unable to be present at his first win at the 2021 Daytona 500.
McDowell might have earned a playoff spot on points if he hadn’t won today. But lacking a McDowell win, the victory would likely have gone to Chase Elliott or Daniel Suárez. Either driver winning would have eliminated one more space for a driver to get into the playoffs on points.
NASCAR and the Fans Win
Next to McDowell, the biggest winner of the day was NASCAR and the fans. Drivers pushed NASCAR to shift the restart zone far enough back from the start-finish line to eliminate the chaos going into Turn 1. NASCAR also discontinued stage breaks at road courses. As a result, all 39 cars that started the race finished it running.
The restart zone being further back was a smart decision for this track. The lack of restarts — the race had only one caution — didn’t hurt either.
The Runners Up
Chase Elliott hasn’t won at a road course in the Next Gen car, but his second-place finish at Indianapolis bodes well for next week’s race at Watkins Glen. If I had to pick which of the two races he would be stronger at, I would have picked Watkins Glen. If Elliott doesn’t win at Watkins Glen, he’ll have to take his chances at Daytona with everyone else who is yet to win a race.
Daniel Suárez lost his chance for a win when an air hose got trapped under the left front tire during a pit stop. The time lost made it impossible for Suárez to catch up to McDowell and Elliott. Instead, he spent the latter stages of the race fending off a persistent Tyler Reddick, who finished fourth.