With the lack of stage cautions on road courses in 2023, the NASCAR Cup Series’ Verizon 200 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course allowed Michael McDowell, Chase Elliott and Daniel Suarez to separate themselves from the field.
All three drivers entered Sunday (Aug 13.) winless and below the playoff cut line. When the 82-lap race ended, McDowell went to victory lane. Elliott came home runner-up and Suarez was third.
All three were certainly the class of the field too.
McDowell celebrated clinching his berth into the playoffs. The other two? Suarez is 28 points below the cut line and Elliott is 80.
Elliott, the 2020 Cup champion, led only one lap but he ultimately closed McDowell’s lead to 0.937 seconds.
“Just not quite enough,” Elliott said post-race.
Elliott scored his first top-five result since the Chicago street course in July. Furthermore, he earned his highest points total of the 2023 season. It is a welcome sign for his Hendrick Motorsports team.
“Yeah, man,” he continued. “We had a fast Napa Chevy, so that’s always good to have pace. We just need a little rhythm.”
Suarez won the pole. He earned 17 stage points en route to his 51-point total, second highest in the race only behind McDowell.
He finished behind McDowell in both the first and second stages. When the top three came onto pit road on lap 49 for their final pit stop, Suarez’s Trackhouse Racing pit crew made a detrimental mistake, one that took away his shot at victory.
Suarez wound up 5.790 seconds behind McDowell, but he believes he would’ve been there at the end if not for the pit road mishap.
“I think we were going to be good to fight,” said Suarez. “Unfortunately, we were a little bit too far away at that last stage. And I closed that gap, I don’t know how much I closed the gap, but it wasn’t enough. I feel like in the last stage I was stronger than them, but not a second. It’s all good. We have to continue to build and work. We have a few things to clean up and I’m sure that we’re going to return [to contention].
“My car actually got better in the end. So yeah, I think we were going to have a pretty good shot. It actually was going to be fun cause I felt that (Elliott) was pretty good, he was falling off at the end of the run. And (McDowell) and myself, the No. 34 was pretty good during the middle part of the run and I feel like I was pretty good in the end of the run. So it was going to be a good fight. Disappointed that we didn’t get to see it.”
Trackhouse encouraged Suarez on the radio not to give up and wheel his No. 99 Chevrolet back to the front. There just was not enough time for him to catch the top two though.
“Yeah, they were trying to keep me motivated,” Suarez continued. “I appreciate it. I love hearing that. It was good. I felt like we did a good job today. If I have to rate myself, or ourselves as a team, on a 1-10, I feel like we did a solid 8. To win? Those are 9s and 10s. And we did an 8. We got to do a little better next week.”
In fact, while the top three drove away from the field, with only the top four finishing within 10 seconds of the race winner, the lack of cautions cost Suarez.
“It was and it wasn’t,” Suarez added about the benefits, or lack thereof, of the lack of stage cautions. “I wish I had a caution at the end when everyone was spread out and we had the mistake. I wish we had a caution to help, but it’s a part of racing.”
The two races remaining in the Cup regular season are at Watkins Glen International and Daytona International Speedway.
Elliott has two wins, four top fives and four top 10s in his six career Cup starts at WGI. He is winless at Daytona. His response to whether Sunday brought him confidence for next week was simple: “Yeah. We got a shot.”
In five career Cup starts at The Glen, Suarez has three top fives and three top 10s. He has not fared as well at Daytona, with only one top 10 in 12 starts there. After a good day, not great as he noted, at the Indy road course, he is not changing his game plan as he seeks to make the playoffs for the second straight year.
“Continue to do the same thing,” Suarez said. “Nothing has changed for us.”
About the author
Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.
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