Michael McDowell was one of several drivers battling to make the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs until winning the Verizon 200 at the Indianapolis road course. Now the 38-year-old from Phoenix, Arizona is locked into the second playoff appearance of his career.
Entering the race as the last driver in a playoff position, McDowell’s clutch performance turned a tame race into compelling action. Three drivers separated themselves from the field and all three needed a win to lock into the playoffs. After Daniel Suarez fell out of contention McDowell maintained a small lead over Chase Elliott in the closing laps.
McDowell’s second NASCAR Cup Series victory gives his team a two-week break from the playoff pressure. Instead of racing for stage points at Watkins Glen, he can go all out for their second win in a row. At Daytona, McDowell can rest assured knowing that he will be in the playoffs no matter what the chaotic cutoff race brings. For other drivers, one less available playoff position will make the next two weeks the most important two weeks of the year.
Chase Elliott fell just shy of locking into the playoff field with a runner-up finish in Indianapolis. The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion is winless after a tumultuous start to the season. Elliott missed six races after injuring himself while snowboarding and another due to a suspension. Now with an 80-point deficit, Chase Elliott will need to win one of the two remaining races to continue his championship hopes.
He will be a favorite to do so at Watkins Glen this weekend where Elliott won his first NASCAR Cup Series race. In his six starts, Elliott has four top 5’s and two wins at the road course. With momentum on his side from Indianapolis, this weekend will be Chase Elliott’s best chance to make the playoffs.
Road courses have been an Achilles heel for Bubba Wallace since joining the NASCAR Cup Series. Heading into two consecutive road courses Wallace had built a 60-point buffer to the cut line. With one of the better road course races of his career, Wallace had a quiet 18th-place finish.
However, with Michael McDowell winning and Daniel Suarez finishing third Wallace lost points to the cut line. Ty Gibbs came back from an early spin to finish 11th, gaining points on Wallace as well.
The goal for Bubba Wallace at Watkins Glen will be the same as it was for Indianapolis. Try to minimize mistakes and stay on the race track. The #23 team has given themselves a small cushion in points after a strong stretch of races during the summer. However, Watkins Glen is one of Wallace’s worst tracks on the schedule. Leaving this weekend with a lead of any kind might be considered a victory.
A mistake during a pit stop took away the best opportunity Daniel Suarez had to make the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. After qualifying on the pole, Suarez had been racing for the lead with Michael McDowell and Chase Elliott.
His front tire changer made the mistake of getting the air hose stuck underneath the tire. Suarez left the pits seconds behind the two and was never able to recover. The silver lining for Daniel Suarez is that he gained lots of points on the new cut-line driver, Bubba Wallace. Going into the race Suarez was 60 points behind Wallace. He is now only 28 points behind Wallace for the final playoff position.