Michael McDowell: NASCAR Cup stars have gained on SVG

MADISON, ILLINOIS - JUNE 01: Michael McDowell, driver of the #34 Siteman Cancer Center Ford, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Enjoy Illinois 300 at WWT Raceway on June 01, 2024 in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Last year, even some of the most experienced NASCAR Cup Series veterans were awestruck by some of the moves Shane van Gisbergen made in wet conditions to win the inaugural Chicago Street Race.

But Michael McDowell, winner of last year’s road course event on the Indianapolis Grand Prix Course—a race in which van Gisbergen finished 10th—doesn’t concede that the New Zealander is head-and-shoulders above the Cup competitors this year.

“The gap has definitely closed,” McDowell said. “Obviously, you can’t rule him out as one of the contenders, but I think it was a perfect storm for him last year—literally.

“So, is he going to be a challenge and a threat? For sure, but I also feel like, beyond the Chicago Street Course… he wasn’t (as strong) at Indy and some of the other places we went to. I feel like it’s still Cup racing. It’s really tough, but he’s definitely a guy that everyone will have to contend with.”

McDowell mounted a successful challenge on Saturday, qualifying third behind pole winner Kyle Larson and Ty Gibbs—and two grid positions ahead of van Gisbergen.