It has been clear for quite some time that Michael McDowell and Front Row Motorsports were on the precipice of scoring another victory in the NASCAR Cup Series. Sunday at Indianapolis, the 38-year-old driver finally broke through.
Leading a race-high 54 of 82 laps at the Indianapolis Road Course, McDowell's victory in the Verizon 200 was a culmination of an afternoon filled with career highs for the Arizona native.
"I was really trying to pace myself. I figured there would be a late-race caution, and I didn't want to burn my stuff up," said McDowell post-race. "I was just trying to maintain that gap. Then when I got into traffic, started closing, I had to push it, but I just can't believe it."
Despite being in control for the majority of the race, McDowell wasn't uncontested in scoring the victory, having Daniel Suarez and Chase Elliott, two drivers also fighting to get themselves into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs hounding him throughout the event.
While Suarez, the polesitter for the 200-mile contest, would eventually fall back from his long-standing pursuit of McDowell during the final fuel run, Chase Elliott couldn't be shaken as easily, staying within two to three seconds of the eventual race winner.
As the laps wound down, though, Elliott mounted one last charge at the Front Row Motorsports driver, coming within a second of McDowell upon crossing the start-finish line to conclude the event, but being 0.937 seconds short of his first win of 2023.
The victory comes less than a week after Front Row Motorsports made a commitment to Michael McDowell for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season. Now, the week has been capped off with a win and a post-season berth.
"You know, I thought we could point our way in," said McDowell about making the post-season. "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. Just I can't believe it, so thankful."
Suarez, who as mentioned earlier dropped back from the pursuit of McDowell, was taken out of contention for the victory as a result of an abhorrent pit stop, which dropped him 10-plus seconds behind the leaders. The Trackhouse Racing driver would come home in third, 5.750 seconds back of the race-winner.
Tyler Reddick and Alex Bowman both had quiet days, finishing in fourth and fifth. The top-five run for Bowman is the first for the No. 48 Chevrolet since Circuit of The Americas in March.
Chase Briscoe mounted a solid run at his home track of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, finishing sixth in the No. 14 for Stewart-Haas Racing. Martin Truex, Jr., Kyle Larson, and Christopher Bell finished seventh through ninth.
Rounding out the top-10, in his second career NASCAR Cup Series start, was Shane van Gisbergen, who ran in and around the top-12 throughout the entire afternoon, battling the driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 for the majority of the event.
With 39th-place Aric Almirola finishing only three laps behind the eventual race-winner, Sunday's Verizon 200 marks the closest together that a NASCAR Cup Series field has finished from first to last place.
Leaving Indianapolis, Martin Truex, Jr. continues to build a gap in the regular-season points over Denny Hamlin, which now sits at 60 points heading into the final two events of the regular season at Watkins Glen International and Daytona International Speedway.
Photo Credit: Tyson Gifford, Racing America