NASCAR: Chase Elliott wasn’t the big winner in Atlanta

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) /

Chase Elliott became the first driver to win three races in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, but he wasn’t the biggest winner at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott earned his first NASCAR Cup Series home race win on Sunday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway, taking the checkered flag to win the Quaker State 400 under caution.

Through the first 19 races of the 2022 season, Elliott leads the series in wins (three), top 10 finishes (13), laps led (645), average finish (10.8), stage wins (tied, five), stage points (169), playoff points (20; 35 if playoffs started today), and overall points (684).

But despite all of this success, he wasn’t the biggest winner of Sunday’s 260-lap race around the four-turn, 1.54-mile (2.478-kilometer) high-banked oval in Hampton, Georgia.

Had Spire Motorsports Corey LaJoie, who led more laps in this race than he had ever led over the course of an entire season, held on to win, he would have been the season’s 14th different winner — and with seven races remaining on the regular season schedule.

There are just 16 playoff spots open, and the playoff spots go to the regular season champion, whether he wins a race or not, and the 15 drivers who rank next highest in wins, provided they rank inside the top 30 in the point standings.

Because Elliott won, there have still only been 13 winners this year, as he also won at Dover Motor Speedway and Nashville Superspeedway earlier this season.

This means that there are still three drivers in the provisional playoff picture on points as opposed to only two. Those three drivers are Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell.

In the event of a 14th different winner, Bell would be below the cut line — despite sitting in eighth place in the point standings.

Sitting within striking distance of the cut line are Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola. With another new winner, those two drivers would be the second and third drivers below the playoff cut line as opposed to the first two.

Of course, we can’t neglect to mention that LaJoie wouldn’t actually have been in the top 30 in the point standings with his win.

Because of that, he technically wouldn’t have positioned himself as one of the 16 provisional playoff drivers (at the moment), and the cut line would still be exactly where it is now.

But he would have been mighty close, and you better believe that the drivers currently hovering around the cut line wouldn’t want to worry about “will Corey LaJoie crack the top 30 in points?” when it comes to solidifying their own playoff spots throughout the regular season’s final seven races.

Just imagine the following scenario.

Truex heads into the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway sitting in a solid fourth place in the point standings, but he hasn’t yet won in 2022. So he sits in the 16th and final spot above the playoff cut line because of all the different winners.

LaJoie, despite winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway, is currently out of the playoff picture, as he sits outside of the top 30 in the standings in 31st place.

Despite Bubba Wallace, who sits in 25th in points, running well all race, he settles for second place, and because of it, the race avoids an upset/new winner, and Wallace doesn’t qualify for the playoffs. Elliott takes the checkered flag for a series-best fifth win of the year.

So Truex is safe — or so it seems.

However, a career-high third place finish for LaJoie launches him up into 30th place in the standings ahead of Todd Gilliland, and with that, suddenly his earlier win counts toward playoff eligibility, and he locks himself into the postseason.

Now Truex is out of the playoffs, and instead of a 10-week battle to win a second championship, he is locked in a 10-week battle for 17th place — despite a fourth place finish in regular season points.

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There’s no doubt that Elliott was one of the big winners at Atlanta Motor Speedway. But suffice it to say that there are plenty of drivers who were more than content with Elliott winning on Sunday afternoon, in terms of the overall picture.