IndyCar championship becomes clearer while NASCAR’s playoff race amps up after Indy weekend
For the fourth consecutive year, IndyCar and NASCAR shared the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a triple-header weekend, which featured all the races on the Grand Prix course.
IndyCar ran its 14th race of 2023 on the second weekend of August, ending with a result that is all too familiar — a Scott Dixon victory.
This win, however, was no easy accomplishment. Dixon spun on Lap 1 of the Gallagher Grand Prix as he evaded the contact that teammate and points leader Alex Palou, championship contender Josef Newgarden, and Romain Grosjean made in the back of the field.
Dixon raced on a different strategy that played into one of his greatest strengths- fuel conservation.
On Lap 60 of 85, Dixon pitted while running in the top 10, hoping the race would stay green until the finish. Three laps later, pole-sitter and leader Graham Rahal was forced to pit as he was losing ground on Dixon and surrendered the lead to the New Zealander.
On the alternate strategy, Dixon was tasked with staying ahead of Rahal, who was racing on the primary black tires, in the closing laps. He did so en route to his first win of 2023 and 54th of his career.
Dixon has won in 19 consecutive seasons now and is second in the title hunt behind Palou. The deficit is 101 points, but with three races left, including the double-points finale at Laguna Seca, there is no counting out Dixon as he pursues championship No. 7.
Later that Saturday at IMS, Ty Gibbs took the checkered flag in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race. Gibbs is the defending series champion but is running for points in the Cup Series as a rookie, so Sam Mayer’s P2 result garnered him the best finish of an Xfinity regular.
Austin Hill and Justin Allgaier finished fourth and fifth, respectively, and they sit first and third in the standings. John Hunter Nemechek is second with the most wins at this point in the season (five), so it appears these three may be favorites to reach the Championship 4 at Phoenix in November.
On the Cup side, Michael McDowell lead 54 of 82 laps to earn his second career victory in NASCAR’s top level. McDowell has now won the Daytona 500 and at the Brickyard — that’s two places that are as good as any across the world to take trophies home.
Chase Elliott finished second, and the window is closing fast on his opportunity to make the playoffs. The same goes for his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman and Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suarez, who both won races and made the postseason in 2022.
McDowell became the 13th driver to win and clinch a playoff position as Race No. 1 at Darlington is approaching fast.
McDowell’s career is possibly at its peak right now. The Arizona native had part-time opportunities with Michael Waltrip Racing as a rookie, then became a start-and-park driver for various teams through the early 2010s, and has now fomented himself as a weekly contender with a Front Row Motorsports team that has a fraction of the budget many of the other Cup teams have.
The Indy win was a tremendous triumph for himself and his No. 34 team, so before he put thought into the playoff picture, he made sure to enjoy the moment he was in.
“I haven’t let the Playoffs set in yet because winning here has been so cool,” he said post-race. “I think tomorrow or Tuesday, when we think about Watkins Glen, and we think about how we don’t have to just crush every element, that we can just go there and go for the win and have fun, which I think we can do, it’s going to be a big relief.
“But right now, I’m not feeling that — I haven’t got to the Playoffs yet. I’m just enjoying today so far.”
Credit: INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – AUGUST 13: Michael McDowell, driver of the #34 Horizon Hobby Ford, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 13, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)