NASCAR: Chase Elliott crash a blessing in disguise?

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

Chase Elliott no longer has to answer a question that kept being brought up ever since his return to the NASCAR Cup Series in April.

Ever since Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott returned to the NASCAR Cup Series after missing six races in March and April due to a fractured left tibia he suffered in a snowboarding accident, there were questions as to whether he could qualify for the playoffs on points or if he needed a win.

A six-race absence in a 26-race regular season is certainly significant, but Elliott did just lead the series in wins, average finish, laps led, and total points scored a year ago.

But after missing another race in early June due to being suspended for an on-track run-in with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, it looked as though it was going to take a win.

Even still, given the points situation, Elliott continued to keep himself within striking distance of the top 16 in the standings.

The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet entered this past Sunday afternoon’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway sitting 40 points below the cut line with four regular season races remaining.

Considering the fact that he had just made up 16 points to the cut line with a lackluster 13th place finish at Richmond Raceway, getting into the playoffs on points remained a possibility.

But Elliott fell back to 55 points below the cut line after crashing out of Sunday’s race with a flat tire. The race was halted after 73 of 200 laps around the four-turn, 2.0-mile (3.219-kilometer) Brooklyn, Michigan native due to bad weather, and Elliott was not permitted to return for its resumption on Monday.

While the 27-year-old Dawsonville, Georgia native can technically get back above the playoff cut line on points over the course of the regular season’s final three races, Sunday’s wreck made it relatively clear that he is going to need to win.

Elliott finds himself sitting in 22nd place in the point standings, meaning that he needs to pass six drivers to put himself above the cut line.

Making up a 55-point gap on Joe Gibbs Racing rookie Ty Gibbs is one thing. But doing that, along with making up a 52-point gap on Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell, a 50-point gap on Trackhouse Racing Team’s Daniel Suarez, a 31-point gap on Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger, an 11-point gap on teammate Alex Bowman, and a two-point gap on Team Penske’s Austin Cindric at the same time — all while avoiding being passed by several hungry drivers behind him — makes things incredibly difficult.

Oh, and even if he does manage to pull all of that off over the next three weeks, he isn’t necessarily locked into the playoffs.

Don’t forget that the cut line could technically still move up if more new winners emerge and vault to the top of the playoff picture. The provisional playoff picture is currently occupied by 12 race winners and four drivers on points, but that could — and, quite frankly, probably will — change before the regular season ends.

Bottom line, Chase Elliott now knows for sure that he needs to win to qualify for the playoffs for an eighth consecutive NASCAR Cup Series season.

Fortunately for him, the three races remaining on the regular season schedule include races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Watkins Glen International, and Daytona International Speedway.

Elliott is a seven-time road course winner and a two-time winner at Watkins Glen, so following his Michigan crash, he has somewhat of an advantage in knowing that he is going for the race win as opposed to stage points heading into the next two road course events.

Given the recent elimination of stage breaks in road course races, this could prove significant as other “bubble drivers” vie for points in the first two stages of each race.

Elliott is also a three-time superspeedway winner, but a Daytona win has eluded him throughout his career.

DraftKings Sportsbook, which is offering fans an instant $150 just for betting $5, lists Elliott at +2200 to win this year’s championship. He entered the season as the favorite.

Odds and availability are subject to change, so lock in your $150 now!

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