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Michael McDowell Wins at Indy, and Shakes Up the Playoffs

Michael McDowell led a race high 54 laps on his way to his second Cup win, but a win that puts a lot of pressure on several bubble drivers. While securing his place in the playoffs, he leaves Daniel Suarez, Ty Gibbs, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman wondering what’s next with just two races to go in the regular season.

Bubba Wallace and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. have to just finish this week in good form at Watkins Glen to stay on the plus side of the playoff cut off.

It didn’t take McDowell terribly long to pass polesitter Suarez who led 6 laps overall and once he did, it was lights out. McDowell went on to win Stage 1 and was second in Stage 2 won by Denny Hamlin on a strictly points-based strategy move. Chase Elliott started third, led just one lap and just didn’t seem to have what it took to get past McDowell.

The race saw the last 77 of the 84 laps run under green which is unusual for a road course and as aggressive as the drivers were. With so much on the line, even aggression took a back seat to drivers getting as good a finish as they possibly could.

The Top 10 once again saw a changing of the guard with young drivers in good equipment and more road course experience moved forward. Suarez finished P3, Tyler Reddick P4, Alex Bowman managed P5, Chase Briscoe P6, Christopher Bell P9 and Shane Van Gisbergen P10. SVG, the Chicago race winner, claimed to have had a lot of fun in this and finishing P19 in the truck race at IRP. He’s not scheduled to race at Watkins Glen this week but it wouldn’t surprise me to see a last minute deal to put him in a ride.

The race also saw all of the 39 cars entered finish the race. How often do we see that? You can bet that won’t be the case this weekend at The Glen. It is a far more technical track and after all the contact we saw at Indy, I think there will be some payback in line for a few drivers.

Next Up: da points

Chase Elliott has to be kicking himself right now. After being sidelined for wrecking Denny Hamlin during the Coca Cola 600.  Those race points might be the difference between sitting above or below the playoff cut line right now. Chase is no slouch at either The Glen or Daytona but crazy things can happen and missing the playoffs would be a huge blow to the team.

Bubba Wallace has to grind it out at another road course and stay clean at Daytona in order to stay on the plus side of the cut off. He is capable of that but he is also capable of a singular lapse in judgement that can ruin his playoff hopes.

To me, two of the key drivers this weekend will be Suarez and AJ Allmendinger. Allmendinger didn’t have a great race at Indy and Suarez was so close to winning. Both drivers are fighting to make the playoffs before Daytona. Allmendinger will take chances at The Glen, as he does at nearly every road course. He knows how to get around and he will put his car into places other won’t. Allmendinger just 7 points behind Elliott on points so this could be a real duel if AJ qualifies well.

Next up: Watkins Glen

The most technical of the road courses, this should be a good race and a good battle for the final playoff spots. A poor qualifying effort will be hard to overcome here. Since 2016, Denny Hamlin is the only driver to start outside the Top 10 (P11) and win.

Kyle Larson could really stink up the day for everyone and win his third race in a row at The Glen. On a positive note for Elliott, he won back to back races here in 2018-19 and had Top 5 finishes in both of Larson’s wins. Larson is safely in the playoffs but winning a championship is also about eliminating your toughest competition when they are down.

Unless they are really off the mark, Elliott should qualify well. Suarez’s best qualifying position was P5 in 2017, but this is not 2017 and the team is stronger. But he’ll need to be mistake free as well as fast to win.

Speaking of mistake free, Joey Logano will need some help with that. He had a terrible Indy race and while I don’t think he is a huge threat to win at The Glen, if he can’t clean up his act from Indy, he’ll be bouncing off everyone again and be lucky to finish the race.

This is Chase Elliott’s race to lose.

Keep the shiny side up folks.  And check out my past columns here.

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images/NASCAR Media)

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