NASCAR: Chase Elliott wasn’t the big winner at Nashville

Chase Elliott, Nashville, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, Nashville, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images) /

Chase Elliott won Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Nashville Superspeedway to become the fifth driver with two victories this year.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott made it two for two on concrete ovals this year, earning his second victory of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season at Nashville Superspeedway on Sunday night. He also won at Dover Motor Speedway in early May.

Because of the nature of the playoff format, Elliott’s second win, not his first win, is what technically locked him into the playoffs.

With 16 playoff spots and 26 regular season events, there is no guarantee that the format will indeed be a “win and in” format. Those 16 spots go to the regular season points champion and the 15 drivers who rank next highest in the wins category.

With 12 winners in the 26-race regular season’s first 17 races, the only way to have truly locked into the playoffs thus far is by winning twice, as there can be no more than 13 two-race winners in the regular season.

Elliott’s victory made him the fifth driver to win twice this year. The other four are teammate William Byron, Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, and Team Penske’s Joey Logano.

But Elliott, despite having now officially clinched his playoff berth, was not the biggest winner at Nashville Superspeedway.

The reason for this is the fact that he was not truly at risk of missing the playoffs. He entered the race as the points leader, and he is still the points leader. He hasn’t not been the points leader since before the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway back in March.

Even if he lost the points lead as a single-race winner, he would not have been at risk of missing the postseason, as he is still toward the top of the standings.

If there are more than 16 different regular season race winners, which there still might be, the tiebreaker among the single-race winners to determine who is awarded the remaining open playoff spots becomes points.

So the big winners from Elliott’s second victory were the single-race winners who aren’t exactly in favorable positions in the point standings, plus the non-winners who still have a chance to get into the playoffs on points.

Four of the seven single-race winners sit down between 15th and 19th place in the standings, with 23XI Racing’s Kurt Busch in 15th, Team Penske rookie Austin Cindric in 17th, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe in 18th, and Trackhouse Racing Team’s Daniel Suarez in 19th.

The blanket covering those four drivers is just nine points.

So in the event that there are more than 16 regular season winners, any one — or possibly more — of those single-race winners could be at risk of failing to make the playoffs, even with their victories from earlier in the year.

As for the non-winners, Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney leads the way in third place in the standings, but that is only good for 13th of 16 in the playoff picture. Had a new winner emerged on Sunday, he would be 14th. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell sit in seventh and eighth (14th and 15th), respectively.

But with more new winners, they may not be safe.

Even less safe is Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick. Despite sitting in 11th in points, he is currently the 16th and final driver above the playoff cut line. With a new winner, he’d be below it.

Because of how many of the single-race winners rank so low in points, four drivers in the top 16 in the standings are currently on the outside looking in, with three of those four sitting more than 50 points below the cut line. The fact that Elliott won Sunday’s race, as opposed to a new winner, prevented that gap from becoming even larger and making it even more challenging to qualify.

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So there were quite a few drivers other than Elliott who were perfectly content with seeing the driver of the #9 Chevrolet find victory lane on Sunday night at the four-turn, 1.333-mile (2.145-kilometer) oval in Lebanon, Tennessee.