Chase Elliott continues to prove that he still has a path to qualify for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs on points, even if it will likely take a win.
Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott has been below the NASCAR Cup Series playoff cut line for much of the 2023 season, largely because of the fact that he missed seven races earlier in the year.
Elliott competed in only two races before being sidelined for six as a result of a fractured left tibia he suffered in a snowboarding accident, and he was later suspended for an additional race as a result of an on-track run-in with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
With Elliott having been granted a playoff waiver, meaning his missed starts won’t count against his playoff eligibility, but being well below the cut line, there has been a narrative since his return that he needs to win to get into the playoffs.
That still might be true.
But once again at Richmond Raceway, Chase Elliott proved that he is not in a must-win situation to qualify for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
All things considered, it was a relatively disappointing afternoon for the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet in Sunday afternoon’s Cook Out 400. He qualified in fourth place for the 400-lap race around the four-turn, 0.75-mile (1.207-kilometer) Richmond, Virginia oval, but he only managed to finish in 13th.
Still, after entering the afternoon 56 points below the playoff cut line, he heads into the final four races on the regular season schedule just 40 points back after making up 16 points at the short track.
Elliott scored seven points with a fourth place finish in stage one, marking just the fifth race this season he has scored stage points, and collected 24 more points with a 13th place finish.
Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell, who currently holds the 16th and final playoff spot, only scored 15 points with a 22nd place finish, so Elliott was able to make up 16 points.
Even on an afternoon when he struggled for pace and only managed to finish in 13th place, he still did more than he needed to do to put himself back on pace to qualify for the playoffs on points.
He certainly benefited from the fact that the playoff cut line didn’t move up on Sunday afternoon, as RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher, whose win was his first of the season, was already well above the cut line even before securing the Cook Out 400 victory.
However, we cannot neglect to mention that McDowell isn’t the only driver separating Elliott from where he currently sits in 20th place in the point standings and a provisional playoff spot.
Elliott sits 40 points behind the cut line, while Joe Gibbs Racing rookie Ty Gibbs sits just 18 points back in 17th place, Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger sits just 22 points back in 18th, and Trackhouse Racing Team’s Daniel Suarez sits just 34 points back in 19th.
The 27-year-old Dawsonville, Georgia native needs to pass McDowell and all of those other drivers, all without having the playoff cut line move up. The next driver ahead of McDowell is 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace, who sits 36 points ahead of the driver of the No. 34 Ford in 15th place.
While Elliott is not yet in a must-win situation, winning one of the final four races of the regular season races is still his best bet to lock up an eighth straight playoff berth. Fortunately for him, two of those races are road course races, and Elliott leads all active drivers with seven wins on courses with both left and right turns.
FanDuel Sportsbook, which is now offering fans an instant $100 just for betting $5, lists Elliott, the preseason favorite to win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship, at +1500 to win this year’s title.
Here are where the odds stand ahead of this coming Sunday afternoon’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Odds and availability are always subject to change, so lock in your $100 now while you still can!
The FireKeepers Casino 400 is set to be broadcast live on USA Network from Michigan International Speedway beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET this Sunday, August 6. If you have yet to start a free trial of FuboTV, do so today!