NASCAR: Recent rule change could save Chase Elliott’s season

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports /

A preseason rule change could ultimately prove to be the difference between Chase Elliott making the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs or missing out for the first time in his career.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott is currently sidelined from NASCAR Cup Series competition for “several weeks” after suffering a broken left tibia in a Colorado snowboarding accident last Friday. He is expected to miss around six races.

He missed his first start since becoming a full-time driver back in 2016 this past Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, when JR Motorsports Xfinity Series driver Josh Berry filled in for him behind the wheel of the No. 9 Chevrolet, and he is out for this Sunday afternoon’s race at Phoenix Raceway as well.

Elliott’s absence this past Sunday saw him drop from 14th to 24th place in the point standings, and he will likely fall outside of the top 30 after this coming weekend’s race.

Before long, Chase Elliott will probably be the lowest among the 34 full-time NASCAR Cup Series drivers, perhaps even lower than some part-time drivers.

Depending on how much time he ends up missing (six races isn’t a confirmed number, as he is still early in the recovery process), it could be a challenge for him to climb back into the top 30 when he returns.

Fortunately for him, that no longer matters when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs.

Through last season, one of the requirements for race winners to qualify for the playoffs was that they had to finish the regular season in the top 30 in the point standings. That requirement was scrapped ahead of the 2023 campaign.

This means that if Elliott is granted a playoff waiver, all he would need to do to get into the playoffs is win a race (assuming there aren’t more than 16 winners, thus preventing at least one single-race winner from qualifying; two wins would lock him in regardless).

He would no longer need to be in the top 30 in the point standings to secure playoff eligibility.

A waiver would simply give Elliott the ability to qualify for the playoffs despite missing races, whether that be by getting in on points or by winning a race or races. He still doesn’t score any points or playoff points during his absence, and he inherently has fewer chances to score points and win races by missing an extended period of time.

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Hendrick Motorsports have already applied for Elliott to be granted a waiver by NASCAR. A decision is expected in the near future since a rough timetable has now been established regarding his return.