NASCAR: Chase Elliott can’t qualify for the playoffs yet

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

Chase Elliott has been granted a waiver, but he can’t qualify for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs in his first start back.

For the first time since late February, Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott is set to compete in a NASCAR Cup Series race this Sunday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway.

Elliott was sidelined after suffering a broken left tibia in a Colorado snowboarding accident in early March, but after missing six races, he is set to be back behind the wheel of the No. 9 Chevrolet for the NOCO 400.

He has been granted a playoff waiver by NASCAR, meaning that his six missed starts don’t automatically make him ineligible for qualify for the postseason. But he still has to qualify, which won’t be easy since he ranks 34th in the point standings, last among full-time drivers, and is 134 points below the cut line.

Elliott could very well win this Sunday’s 400-lap race around the four-turn, 0.526-mile (0.847-kilometer) Ridgeway, Virginia oval. He has won at Martinsville Speedway before. But doing so would not solidify him a spot in the postseason.

There used to be a rule that any race winner was only playoff eligible if he finished the regular season in the top 30 in the point standings.

That is no longer a rule, but that isn’t what is keeping Chase Elliott from qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs this weekend.

In fact, even if it were a rule, Elliott could still technically score enough points to get back into the top 30 on Sunday anyway.

Because there are still 18 regular season races remaining, there can still be more than 16 different regular season race winners. There have already been seven in the season’s first eight races. If there end up being more than 16 (or more than 15 with a winless regular season champion), then a driver or drivers will miss the playoffs despite winning a race.

The 16 playoff spots are awarded to the regular season champion and the 15 drivers who rank next highest in wins. With 26 regular season races, there can be more than 16 winners.

If there end up being more winners than open playoff spots, all multi-race winners are locked in, since there can be no more than 13 of them in the regular season, but the single-race winners aren’t. If there are too many winners, then the tiebreaker to determine which single-race winners get in and which don’t becomes points.

If Elliott were to become the eighth different winner in nine races on Sunday, he would be the lowest ranking winner in the point standings. The lowest winner is currently JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who sits in 13th place in the standings. He is 145 points ahead of Elliott.

In fact, no driver who hasn’t already won this season can clinch a playoff spot on Sunday, no matter where they rank in points. The only driver already locked into this year’s playoffs is Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron, who won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway.

In addition to Stenhouse, there are five drivers who have a chance to win for a second time this season at Martinsville Speedway and thus officially clinch a playoff spot: Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson, 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick, Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch, and Team Penske’s Joey Logano. They rank first, fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth in points, respectively.

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Fox Sports 1 is set to broadcast the NOCO 400 live from Martinsville Speedway beginning at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 16. If you haven’t yet begun a free trial of FuboTV, do so now!